The Supreme Court of New Mexico opened the state to same-sex marriages in the case of Griego v. Oliver, 2013 WL 6670704 (N.M. 2013). It interpreted New Mexico statutes as denying the right of same-sex couples to marry and then held those statutes unconstitutional under the equal protection clause in Article 18 of Section II of the New Mexico Constitution. The court unanimously held that the statutes created a classification based on sexual orientation and that such statutes should be subject to intermediate scrutiny because the class of gay and lesbian persons has a history of being subject to discrimination and “deep-rooted prejudice against their integration into society.”
Applying that standard of review, the court found the classification unconstitutional. The state justified denying same-sex couples the right to marry on the ground that male-female marriages promoted “responsible procreation and child-rearing.” Although this is a legitimate government interest, the court found no relation between it and the decision to deny marriage to same-sex couples, partly because “fertility has never been a condition of marriage” and even if it was, same-sex couples can procreate and raise children responsibly. The court found that the “purpose of the New Mexico marriage laws is to bring stability and order to the legal relationships of committed couples by defining their rights and responsibilities as to one another, their property, and their children, if they choose to have children.” Given that purpose, the state could show no legitimate government interest in denying the civil status of marriage to same-sex couples.
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Posted on December 17th, 2013 by Joseph William Singer.
The city of Irwindale in the Los Angeles area brought suit to shut down a plant that manufacturers hot sauce made from sriracha chilis. Neighbors complained that the hot sauce manufacturer caused them great discomfort from the odors of the plant, that they suffered from headaches, and that the plant made their eyes water and their throats burn. read article On the other hand some residents suffered no ill effects while others found the effects fleeting and inconsistent. The state superior court judge must have believed the complaints because he issued an injunction ordering the plant to cease the operations that were causing the offensive odors.read article The court did not order the plant closed, just to act to mitigate the problems it was causing.
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A number of recent cases has revealed the persistence of racial discrimination affecting municipal decisions about housing. The Sixth Circuit found, for example, in Hidden Village, LLC v. City of Lakewood, Ohio, 734 F.3d 519 (6th Cir. 2013), that town officials may have engaged in a campaign of harassment designed to induce African American residents to move out of town. The case involved a Lutheran religious organization that helped young people released from foster care or juvenile detention to enter society. The organization found a helpful landlord willing to rent apartments to the organization’s clients. At first the town officials argued that this amounted to an institutional use in violation of the zoning law but the town planning commission found otherwise. At that point, the complaint alleges that town officials began a campaign of police harassment that involved citations for minor offenses and unreasonable searches of apartments.
The Sixth Circuit concluded that the landlord had standing to sue to claim violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. §§1981-1982 and the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §3601 et seq. The court also held that plaintiffs had presented a viable substantive due process claim. The court noted that the due process clause “protects landlords against irrational restrictions on how they use their property. Rationality may be a low bar. But the government flunks even that test when it tries to prevent a landlord of any race from renting to tenants based on their race.
The court also found a potential violation of §3617 of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §3617 which makes it illegal “to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of his having exercised or enjoyed, or on account of his having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or enjoyment of any right granted or protected [by the Fair Housing Act].” Although federal courts have been confused on the issue, the Sixth Circuit held that a §3617 violation could be shown even if there was no underlying violation of another section of the Fair Housing Act. In this case, for example, no one denied the youths housing or granted them discriminatory terms. Nonetheless, the facts sufficiently alleged that the town sought to interfere with their enjoyment of the right to obtain housing without regard to race.
In a second case, the Eastern District of New York held that a city violated the Fair Housing Act when it rezoned several parcels to prevent the building of low- and middle-income housing. The court found that the facts supported a finding of liability under both a discriminatory treatment and disparate impact theory. MHANY Mgmt Inc. v. Incorporated Village of Garden City, 2013 WL 6334107 (E.D.N.Y. 2013). read article The court found a discriminatory treatment claim (intentional racial discrimination) because there was sufficient evidence to conclude that animus because of race was a significant factor in the denial of the housing opportunity. Evidence to that effect was shown by the fact that exclusion of low-income housing would impose a greater impact on African Americans than on whites, there was a history of racial bias in the city, and the sequence of events leading up to the denial of the housing opportunity that suggested a racially discriminatory motive. Although the city gave legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for the change in the zoning law, the plaintiffs undermined those justifications by showing that the proposed development would not significantly affect traffic and that other reasons given by the city were not supported by the available evidence. The court thus found that the proffered justifications were pretextual.
The court also found a disparate impact claim. Although the city gave legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for its decision (reducing traffic and providing for townhouse construction), it did not show that these goals could not be achieved in a less discriminatory manner or in a manner that did not perpetuate racial segregation.
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Several lawsuits have been in progress arguing that MERS violated state recording statutes by not recording mortgage assignments and thus cheating recording offices out of fees they otherwise would have earned. Interpreting Illinois law, the Seventh Circuit rejected that claim as have other courts that addressed the issue. Union County v. MERSCORP, Inc., 2013 WL 6017394 (7th Cir. 2013) (applying Ill. law). The court explained that Illinois law agrees with almost all other states in providing a voluntary recording system that is intended to protect those who record; that system does not require property transactions to be recorded for them to be valid. It merely protects bona fide purchasers from prior claims against which they had no notice.
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A federal district court has upheld Google’s library book project as an authorized fair use under the federal Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §101 et esq., Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google, Inc., 2013 WL 6017130 (S.D.N.Y. 2013). The court upheld the power of Google to scan copyrighted books held by libraries and to give those libraries digital copies of those scans. It also upheld Google’s power to make the text of those books searchable so that researchers could view snippets of those books and could search the books for particular phrases, words or concepts. The court ruled both practices to constitute a fair use, 17 U.S.C. §107. In determining that the ability to search the digital copies and to view snippets was a fair use, the court found that the use was transformative, did not supplant or supersede the originals, and was not designed to make a profit.
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The Supreme Court has twice in recent years accepted certiorari in cases to decide whether disparate impact claims are available under the Fair Housing Act. Both cases settled before the Supreme Court could determine the issue. The most recent was Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc. v. Twp. of Mt. Holly, 658 F.3d 375 (3d Cir. 2011). The prior case was Gallagher v. Magner, 619 F.3d 823 (8th Cir. 2010). Another lawsuit is in process called Am. Ins. Ass’n v. U.S. Dep’t of Hous. & Urban Dev. (D.D.C., filed 06.26.13), brought by the insurance industry to challenge the disparate impact regulations promulgated this year by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). read article Those regulations define when disparate impact claims are available and are consistent with the general outlines of the doctrine as it been developed by all the Circuit courts. 24 C.F.R. § 100.500(a)–(b).
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In Houston v. Marod Supermarkets, 2013 WL 5859575 (11th Cir. 2013), the Eleventh Circuit ruled that testers have standing to bring suits claiming violation of the public accommodation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The mere fact that one enters property for the purpose of testing compliance with the ADA rather than to purchase products does not deprive the plaintiff of standing to sue for violation of the law. In an odd coda, however, the court noted that injunctive relief was only appropriate if the plaintiff could show injury from the store’s failure to comply with access requirements. The fact that he claimed he would return to the store in the future and that it was located 30 miles from his house was sufficient to show “injury in fact” and give him standing to seek injunctive relief.
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After passage of same-sex marriage laws in both Hawai`i and Illinois and constitutional litigation in New Jersey, seventeen (17) jurisdictions in the US recognize and allow same-sex marriage. The list includes: California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawai`i, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington.
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The Sixth Circuit has held that §3617 of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §3601 et seq., prohibits conduct intended to encourage residents to move even if they are not denied housing or induced to move. Hidden Village, LLC v. City of Lakewood, 2013 WL 5811642 (6th Cir. 2013). The basic provisions of the FHA (embodied in §3604) prohibit denying housing for discriminatory reasons, providing unequal and discriminatory terms and conditions for housing, and expressing an invidious preference for buyers or renters of a particular race, sex, etc. Section 3617 prohibits coercion, intimidation, threats, or any interference with any person’s right to exercise the fair housing rights protected by 3604. Federal courts have been confused and divided over whether §3617 provides a remedy when there is no underlying §3604 violation.
In Hidden Village, municipal officials were unhappy with a religious youth service that helps young people released from foster care or juvenile detention enter society. It planned to house its clients in apartments leased from a private landlord. Following a zoning controversy over whether the use was a lawful “residential” use or a prohibited “institutional” use, municipal officials engaged in a campaign to make life difficult for the charity’s beneficiaries by issuing numerous citations for minor offenses and conducting a warrantless search of the housing premises.
The Sixth Circuit acknowledged that there had been uncertainty about the meaning of §3617 but held that it prohibits conduct intended to interfere with someone’s ability to obtain or enjoy housing whether or not there is an independent violation of one of the terms of §3604. The Court explained:
“[D]efendants argue that they may not be charged with violating § 3617 unless they separately violated at least one of the provisions in §§ 3603–3606. We disagree. Section 3617 nowhere says that it comes into play only when a violation of one of these other sections has also occurred. An example confirms the freestanding nature of some § 3617 claims. Suppose Alice says to Bob, a prospective home buyer, “If a seller ever discriminates against you because of your race, sue him!” Eve, a racist eavesdropper, becomes enraged upon hearing this conversation and threatens to assault Alice. At this point, Eve has violated § 3617, regardless of whether she discriminated against Bob or otherwise violated the fair housing rights secured by §§ 3603–3606. Eve has “threaten[ed] … [a] person,” namely Alice. And this threat was “on account of [Alice’s] having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or enjoyment of [a fair housing right].” Eve threatened Alice because Alice had encouraged Bob to protect himself against discrimination relating to housing. The statute requires no more.”
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The Illinois House has passed a marriage equality bill that is virtually certain to become law in some form in the near future given the support in the Senate and by the Governor. Once that happens, 15 states will have same-sex marriage along with the District of Columbia. The outcome is more uncertain in Hawai`i but the legislature may vote in favor of a same-sex marriage bill in the next days.
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Once again a federal court has held that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (as amended in 1991) provides no relief to a store customer who was subjected to racial insults while trying to buy merchandise. The First Circuit held, in Hammond v. Kmart Corp., 2013 WL 5763267 (1st Cir. 2013), that the “right to contract” protected by 42 U.S.C. §1981 only protects the ability to enter a contract; it provides no relief for racially disparate treatment when one is in a store. Because the customer was able to complete the transaction (laying away merchandise), the store did not prevent her from “contracting.” Being subjected to “racial slurs and insults” as she was engaged in the transaction did not deter her from completing the transaction.
The ruling oddly protects those who are deterred from completing the sale but not those who insist on going through with it despite the discriminatory treatment. It also fails to consider the wording of §1982 which protects the “right to purchase personal property.” Nor does it comprehend that treatment while in the store is part of the contractual process; contracting does not happen at a discrete magic moment.
The federal public accommodations law, 42 U.S.C. § 2000a, does not cover retail stores so with no §1981 remedy, the plaintiff found herself wholly unprotected by federal statutes. The plaintiff did make a state common law claim of infliction of emotional distress, although it was not clear why she did not also make a claim under the state public accommodations statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, §98 which provides: “Whoever makes any distinction, discrimination, or restriction on account of race…relative to the admission of any person to, or his treatment in any place of public accommodation…shall be liable to any person aggrieved thereby…”
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The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes have allowed several same-sex couples to marry under tribal law. The tribal code is neutral with respect to the gender of persons who can get married and merely require one of the parties to be a tribal citizen. read article
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The Ninth Circuit has upheld a city administrative program that regulated landlords whose buildings violated the housing code by allowing tenants to pay a reduced rent into a publicly administered escrow fund which is paid to the landlord once the violations are corrected. Sylvia Landfield Trust v. City of Los Angeles, 2013 WL 4779664 (9th Cir. 2013). Four landlords challenged the program as a violation of their substantive rights under the due process clause. The court upheld the program because it was rationally related to the legitimate government goal of enforcing the housing code to protect tenants from unsafe conditions.The landlords had claimed that the tenants caused the problems, that their properties were not sufficiently substandard to warrant application of the law, and that the program was intended to enrich the government. The court rejected all these claims, noting that the law allowed landlords to prove that tenants were responsible for the conditions and that the program was designed to promote compliance with safety regulations, not to generate income for the government. The program therefore did not arbitrarily deprive the landlords of their liberty or property; nor was it taken ‘with deliberate indifference toward…constitutional rights.”
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Given the clear statement by the Supreme Court of New Jersey on how it was likely to rule in the pending marriage equality case, (see Garden State Equality v. Dow (N.J. 2013). Governor Chris Christie decided to drop the appeal. read article. That leaves the lower court ruling (read opinion here) in place with its conclusion that civil unions are not equal to marriages now that the federal government provides same-sex married couples the same federal rights as male-female married couples but does not confer such rights on partners to a civil union. The New Jersey Supreme Court’s prior ruling in Lewis v. Harris, 908 A.2d 196 (N.J. 2005), had found it to be a violation of the state constitution not to grant same-sex couples the same rights as married couples but left it to the legislature whether to call the resulting unions “marriages” or “civil unions” or something else. While New Jersey conferred equal rights under state law to “civil union” couples, they could not grant them the federal benefits of married couples; that would have been true even if they had allowed “marriages.” But after United States v. Windsor, married same sex couples do have the same federal benefits and married male-female couples so that created an inequality between married New Jersey couples and civil union New Jersey couples that could not stand under the state constitution.
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The Supreme Court of New Jersey unanimously upheld the decision of a trial judge to allow same-sex marriage to proceed pending appeal of the trial judge’s ruling that the New Jersey civil union law violates equal protection by denying same-sex couples the same rights as granted to married couples under federal law. Garden State Equality v. Dow, (N.J. 2013). The court had previously held that same-sex couples were entitled under the state constitution to the same rights and privileges as married male-female couples but allowed the legislature to determine whether to accomplish this end by extending marriage rights to same-sex couples or adopting a civil union law. Because the legislature adopted a civil union law, such couples had the same rights under state law as did male-female couples; they had different rights under federal law but that was because federal law refused to recognize any same-sex couples as married for any federal purposes and the state could not change that situation.
However, after the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013), required the federal government to treat couples as married for federal purposes if they were married under state law, an inequality has now been introduced into New Jersey law. Before Windsor, civil union couples had the same rights as married male-female couples under state law but unequal rights with regard to federal law; that was something state law could not fix. But now that federal law gives married same-sex couples the same rights under state and federal law, it has been true that civil union couples in New Jersey are denied federal rights they would have if they were married under state law. The court determined that this likely violated the equal protection clause and that the state had no legitimate state interest to violate the constitution while the appeal proceeded. Same sex marriages will begin on Monday Oct 21 while the appeal in the NJ Supreme Court will take place in January 2014.
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Posted on October 6th, 2013 by Joseph William Singer.
Categories: Intellectual property.
The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board refused to register “the Slants” as the name of an Asian-American band, despite its attempt to turn the name from an ethnic slur into a mark of pride. In re Tam, No. 85472044, 9/26/13. The federal trademark law prohibits registration of any mark that “may disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute persons, institutions, beliefs or national symbols.” 15 U.S.C. §1052(a). Even though the band sought to “take back” the ethnic slur by appropriating it (as happened with the term “queer” for gay people), the board refused registration because the derogatory meaning of the name was clear in context. The mere fact that the ones using the term were themselves East Asians did not automatically convert the term into one that was not disparaging. Note that the decision merely prohibits federal registration of the mark; it does not prevent the band from continuing to use the name and attempting to change views about its meaning.
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Posted on October 2nd, 2013 by Joseph William Singer.
New Jersey confusingly refers to conditional permits as “conditional use variances.” This language makes it easy to confuse conditional permits and variances. In TSI East Brunswick, LLC v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment of Tp. of East Brunswick, 71 A.3d 762 (N.J. 2013), the Supreme Court of New Jersey reaffirmed the traditional rule that variances should be granted only in cases of unusual hardship (or other statutory requirements) because they allow something to be done that violates the intent of the zoning ordinance. Conditional permits, on the other hand, allow an activity to occur on land as long as the conditions are met and thus are subject to a lower standard of proof; they are presumptively permitted (as long as the conditions are established) rather than presumptively prohibited.
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed that an action intended to discriminate in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) creates a claim for which relief can be granted even if it has not had any other impact on the plaintiff. Pac. Shores Props., LLC v. City of Newport Beach, 2013 WL 5289100 (9th Cir. 2013). In this case, a city passed an ordinance intended to exclude group homes for recovering alcohol and drug users; it had terms that had the practical effect of prohibiting group homes from opening in most residential areas. The court held that a claim could be brought even if the plaintiff could not prove that the ordinance actually prevented it from acquiring property and operating. The ruling tracks prior case law which allow a damages claim for a prospective tenant denied housing because of her race even if she finds an apartment across the street five minutes later that is cheaper and better. Zoning practices that discriminate against individuals with disabilities can be discriminatory and violate the FHA if they contribute to making unavailable or denying housing to those persons.
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A patron who knew he could not enter a diner because the diner did not have wheelchair access could sue the diner and its landlord for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act even though he never went to the diner and tried to get in. Kreisler v. Second Ave. Diner Corp., 2013 WL 5340465 (2d Cir. 2013). The mere fact that he was deterred from going to the diner is enough to give him standing to bring a claim for violating the public accommodation provisions of the ADA. Moreover, once he had standing to sue for one violation, he could sue the diner for other violations of the statute that relate to his particular disability even if he has never been inside.
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Posted on September 28th, 2013 by Joseph William Singer.
A new Nevada statute allows domestic violence victims to move out and terminate any obligations under an existing lease. 2013 Nev. Stat. 301.
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Posted on September 28th, 2013 by Joseph William Singer.
In Toftoy v. Rosenwinkel, 983 N.E.2d 463 (Ill. 2012), the court enforced the state right to farm act to prevent a homeowner from suing a neighboring cattle farm for creating a nuisance. The home owner tried to get around the right to farm statute by arguing that the farm was established after the house had been present. But the court focused on the fact that the the tenant had moved out of the house before the farm was established and that only after the farm was in operation did the home owner demolish the house, build a new one, and move in. The court found that the plaintiff had come to the nuisance despite the fact that a house had been on the property before the farm was established and that the purpose of the right to farm law was to codify the “coming to the nuisance” defense to any nuisance claim.
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New Hampshire law allows tenancies to be created at-will; that means they can be terminated by either party at any time. When the landlord lost the property through foreclosure, the tenancy ended automatically and no new landlord/tenant relationship was established merely because the tenant kept living on the property. Nor did a state statute that specifically prohibited self-help eviction, N.H. Ev. Stat. §540-A, apply in such a case. Nonetheless, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that summary process was available to evict recover possession of the property and that this available procedure impliedly removed the self-help option. Evans v. J Four Realty, LLC, 62 A.3d 869 (N.H. 2013).
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The Idaho Supreme Court endorsed the power of MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) to initiate nonjudicial foreclosure proceedings. Edwards v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys. Inc., 300 P.3d 43 (Idaho 2013).The court held that MERS was an agent (nominee) for the actual lender and holder of the beneficial interest in the deed of trust and could act on behalf of its principal. The original deed of trust named Alliance Title as trustee, Lehman Brothers as the lender, and MERS as the beneficiary as nominee for the lender. After MERS substituted a new trustee, the borrower defaulted and the new trustee filed a notice of default to begin foreclosure proceedings. Although the court held that MERS could not be the beneficiary (since no debt was owed to it), MERS could be an agent for the beneficiary (in this case, Lehman Brothers). As agent for the beneficiary, MERS had legal authority to record the notice of default, appoint a new trustee, and initiate foreclosure proceedings.
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Kentucky had a law declaring unused traveler’s checks to be abandoned property if they are not used after a period of fifteen years; such property escheated to the state. When the legislature reduced the period from fifteen to seven, the change was challenged as a violation of due process of law. The Sixth Circuit held that the legislation was consistent with the due process clause on the ground that substantive due process requires only that the legislation be rationally related to a legitimate government interest. In this case, the legislation shortening the period from fifteen years to seven was a legitimate revenue-raising measure. American Express Travel Related Services Co. v. Kentucky, 641 F.3d 685 (6th Cir. 2013). The court refused, however, to rule on the question of whether the law effected an unconstitutional taking of property without just compensation, unconstitutionally impaired American Express’s contractual obligations, or was unconstitutionally retroactive in application.
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Posted on September 28th, 2013 by Joseph William Singer.
In Arkansas Game & Fish Comm’n v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 511 (2012), the Supreme Court unanimously overruled the Federal Circuit decision in Arkansas Game & Fish Comm’n v. United States, 637 F.3d 1366 (Fed. Cir. 2011), that had held that deviations by the Army Corps of Engineers from a flood management plan that resulted in temporary flooding of riverfront property did not constitute a taking of property without just compensation but might constitute a tort for which compensation could be sought. The Court held that the mere fact that the flooding was temporary did not immunize the government from a takings claim. Justice Ginsburg’s opinion reaffirmed the Court’s preference for “situation-specific factual inquires” in this area, emphasizing that, with only two narrow exceptions, “no magic formula enables a court to judge, in every case, whether a given government interference with property is a taking.” 133 S.Ct. at 518. Because permanent, government-induced flooding is very likely to constitute a taking, Pumpelly v. Green Bay Co., 80 U.S. 166 (1871), it is also possible that intermittent flooding may constitute a taking if it “interferes with private property,” taking into account whether the flooding was the intended or foreseeable result of government action, the owner’s reasonable, investment-backed expectations, the content of state property law, and the character of the land at issue.
In Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, 133 S.Ct. 2586 (2013), the Supreme Court held that the Nollan/Dolan doctrine applied to monetary exactions as well as mandated dedication of property rights. The governmental body in Florida had proposed to allow an owner to dredge his property on the condition that several exactions were met. They included funding offsite mitigation projects on public lands. The Nollan/Dolan rule requires exactions to be substantially related to the reasons for the permit denial; the state cannot condition a land use permit on actions substantially unrelated to the reasons for the land use regulation. Nollan and Dolan both involved governmental proposals to relax regulatory limits on land development in exchange for the owner granting a public easement of access to portions of the owner’s property. In Koontz, the Supreme Court clarified that this rule of law constituted a particular application of the unconstitutional conditions doctrine and that the doctrine equally applied if the permit condition required monetary payments rather than forced dedication of an easement or land. Because the state law required those building on wetlands to offset the resulting environmental damage, the Koontz ruling requires the mitigation demands to be related to the reasons for the wetlands regulation (the “nexus” requirement) and that they be “roughly proportional” to the harm caused by the proposed development. The Court noted that some states have applied this test in the case of monetary exactions and that developing a workable test was not likely to be difficult.
The Court was divided, however, with four Justices dissenting in an opinion written by Justice Kagan.
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