In continuing its trend of reviewing important land use issues, the United States Supreme Court in the case of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes granted discretionary review of this regulatory taking case from the Northern District of California. Although the case was largely procedural in nature turning on whether a jury should render a decision in any taking circumstance, the case is important in that it continues the Court’s previous direction with regard to protecting owner’s rights.
The facts of Monterey were a developer’s nightmare. In an attempt to develop approximately 36 oceanfront acres in accordance with the City’s own zoning ordinance, the property owner submitted five separate site plan applications, each of which was successively scaled down and revised in accordance with “requests” of the City Planning Commissioners. In the final plan, approximately half the acreage was to be dedicated to open space and another third to landscaped areas and public and private streets. Only five acres were allocated to buildings. The City Council and municipal architectural review committee both approved the plan. However, the Planning Commission denied the application.
Del Monte Dunes commenced a federal litigation alleging violations of the Due Process and Equal Protection provisions of the 14th Amendment alleging an uncompensated taking of private property. In a jury verdict for Del Monte Dunes, damages in the amount of $1.45 million were awarded and the California Court of Appeals affirmed. In its May 24, 1999 decision affirming the lower court decisions, the United States Supreme Court noted: “To the extent the City argues that, as a matter of law, its land-use decisions are immune from judicial scrutiny under all circumstances, its position is contrary to settled regulatory taking principals. We reject this claim …”
Although it took in excess of fifteen years to have its grievance redressed, it is comforting to know the Supreme Court still believes in the sanctity of property owner rights.
James E. Jaworski is a partner at WJ&L, LLP who practices in the Land Use and Real Estate areas.