Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Supreme Court
Army Corps of Eng’rs v. Hawkes Co.
Peat mining companies sought a Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1311(a), 1362, permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, to discharge material onto wetlands on property that they own and hope to mine. The Corps issued a jurisdictional designation (JD) stating that the property contained “waters of the United States” because its wetlands had a “significant nexus” to the Red River of the North, located 120 miles away. The district court dismissed their appeal for want of jurisdiction, holding that the JD was not a “final agency action for which there is no other adequate remedy,” 5 U.S.C. 704. The Eighth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed. The Corps’ approved JD is a final agency action judicially reviewable under the Administrative Procedures Act. An approved JD clearly “mark[s] the consummation” of the Corps’ decision-making on whether particular property contains “waters of the United States.” It is issued after extensive fact-finding regarding the property’s physical and hydrological characteristics and typically remains valid for five years. The Corps describes approved JDs as “final agency action.” The definitive nature of approved JDs gives rise to “direct and appreciable legal consequences.” A “negative” creates a five-year safe harbor from governmental civil enforcement proceedings and limits the potential liability for violating the Act. An “affirmative” JD, like issued here, deprives property owners of the five-year safe harbor. Parties need not await enforcement proceedings before challenging final agency action where such proceedings carry the risk of “serious criminal and civil penalties.” The permitting process is costly and lengthy, and irrelevant to the finality of the approved JD and its suitability for judicial review. View "Army Corps of Eng'rs v. Hawkes Co." on Justia Law
Sturgeon v. Frost
The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) set aside 104 million acres of land in “conservation system units,” to include “any unit in Alaska of the National Park System, National Wildlife Refuge System, National Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems, National Trails System, National Wilderness Preservation System, or a National Forest Monument,” 16 U.S.C. 3102(4), plus 18 million acres of state, Native Corporation, and private land. Sturgeon was piloting his hovercraft over the Nation River in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, a conservation system unit managed by the National Park Service. Alaska law permits the use of hovercraft. National Park Service regulations, adopted under 54 U.S.C. 100751(b), do not. Rangers told Sturgeon that hovercraft were prohibited. Sturgeon protested that Park Service regulations did not apply because the river was owned by the state. Sturgeon complied, then filed suit. The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Park Service. ANILCA provides: “No lands ... conveyed to the State, to any Native Corporation, or to any private party shall be subject to the regulations applicable solely to public lands within such units.” Public land is generally land to which the U.S. holds title.. The Ninth Circuit reasoned that the hovercraft regulation applied to all federal-owned lands and waters administered by the Park Service nationwide, so it did not apply “solely” within the units. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected that reasoning and vacated. ANILCA carves out numerous Alaska-specific exceptions to the Park Service’s general authority over federally managed preservation areas, reflecting that Alaska is often the exception, not the rule. The Court did not determine whether the Nation River qualifies as “public land” under ANILCA or whether the Park Service has authority to regulate Sturgeon’s activities on the Nation River. View "Sturgeon v. Frost" on Justia Law
Nebraska v. Parker
In 1854, the Omaha Tribe entered into a treaty with the United States to establish a 300,000-acre reservation and to “cede” and “forever relinquish all right and title to” its remaining land in present-day Nebraska for a fixed price. In 1865, the Tribe entered into another treaty, agreeing to sell land to the government for a fixed sum. In 1872, the Tribe sought to sell more land. Instead of a fixed-sum purchase, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to survey, appraise, and sell tracts of reservation land to settlers and to deposit proceeds with the Treasury for the Tribe’s benefit. Congress took the same approach in 1882 with respect to roughly 50,000 acres of reservation land (22 Stat. 341). Peebles purchased land under the terms of the 1882 Act and established the village of Pender. In 2006, the Tribe sought to subject Pender retailers to tits amended beverage control ordinance pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 1161 (permitting tribes to regulate liquor sales on reservation land and in “Indian country”). Concluding that the 1882 Act did not diminish the Reservation, the district court ruled in favor of the Tribe. The Eighth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed. Only Congress may diminish the boundaries of an Indian reservation, and its intent to do so must be clear. The 1882 Act had none of the common textual indications that express clear intent, but falls into a category of surplus land acts that “merely opened reservation land to settlement.” Although the Tribe has been absent from the disputed territory for more than 120 years, the Court stated that subsequent demographic history is the “least compelling” evidence; the justifiable expectations of non-Indians living on the land cannot alone diminish reservation boundaries. View "Nebraska v. Parker" on Justia Law
Robers v. United States
Robers, convicted of submitting fraudulent mortgage loan applications to two banks, argued that the district court miscalculated his restitution obligation under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996, 18 U.S.C. 3663A–3664, which requires property crime offenders to pay “an amount equal to ... the value of the property” less “the value (as of the date the property is returned) of any part of the property that is returned.” The court ordered Robers to pay the difference between the amount lent to him and the amount the banks received in selling houses that had served as collateral. Robers argued that the court should have reduced the restitution amount by the value of the houses on the date on which the banks took title to them since that was when “part of the property” was “returned.” The Seventh Circuit and a unanimous Supreme Court affirmed. “Any part of the property ... returned” refers to the property the banks lost: the money lent to Robers, not to the collateral the banks received. Because valuing money is easier than valuing other property, this “natural reading” facilitates the statute’s administration. For purposes of the statute’s proximate-cause requirement, normal market fluctuations do not break the causal chain between the fraud and losses incurred by the victim. Even assuming that the return of collateral compensates lenders for their losses under state mortgage law, the issue here is whether the statutory provision, which does not purport to track state mortgage law, requires that collateral received be valued at the time the victim received it. The rule of lenity does not apply here. View "Robers v. United States" on Justia Law
Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States
The General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875 provides railroad companies “right[s] of way through the public lands of the United States,” 43 U.S.C. 934. One such right of way, created in 1908, crosses land that the government conveyed to the Brandt family in a 1976 land patent. That patent stated that the land was granted subject to the right of way, but it did not specify what would occur if the railroad relinquished those rights. A successor railroad abandoned the right of way with federal approval. The government sought a declaration of abandonment and an order quieting its title to the abandoned right of way, including the stretch across the Brandt patent. Brandt argued that the right of way was a mere easement that was extinguished upon abandonment. The district court quieted title in the government. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. The right of way was an easement that was terminated by abandonment, leaving Brandt’s land unburdened. The Court noted that that the government had argued the opposite position in an earlier case. In that case, the Court found the 1875 Act’s text “wholly inconsistent” with the grant of a fee interest. An easement disappears when abandoned by its beneficiary. View "Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States" on Justia Law
Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Mgmt. Dist.
In 1972 Koontz bought 14.9 undeveloped acres. Florida subsequently enacted the 1972 Water Resources Act, requiring a permit with conditions to ensure that construction will not be harm water resources and the 1984 Henderson Wetlands Protection Act, making it illegal to “dredge or fill in, on, or over surface waters” without a wetlands permit. The District with jurisdiction over the Koontz land requires that applicants wishing to build on wetlands offset environmental damage by creating, enhancing, or preserving wetlands elsewhere. Koontz decided to develop 3.7-acres. In 1994 he proposed to raise a section of his land to make it suitable for building and installing a stormwater pond. To mitigate environmental effects, Koontz offered to foreclose development of 11 acres by deeding to the District a conservation easement. The District rejected Koontz’s proposal and indicated that it would approve construction only if he reduced the size of his development and deeded a conservation easement on the larger remaining property or hired contractors to improve District wetlands miles away. Koontz sued under a state law that provides damages for agency action that constitutes a taking without just compensation. The trial court found the District’s actions unlawful under the requirements of Nollan v. California Coastal Commission and Dolan v. City of Tigard, that the government may not condition permit approval on the owner’s relinquishment of a portion of his property unless there is a nexus and rough proportionality between the demand and the effects of the proposed use. The court of appeal affirmed, but the Florida Supreme Court reversed. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that a governmental demand for property from a land-use permit applicant must satisfy the Nollan/Dolan requirements even when it denies the permit. The Nollan/Dolan standard reflects the danger of governmental coercion in the land-use permitting context while accommodating the legitimate need to offset public costs of development through land use exactions. It makes no difference that the Koontz property was not actually taken. It does not matter that the District might have been able to deny Koontz’s application outright without giving him the option of securing a permit by agreeing to spend money improving public lands. Even a demand for money from a land-use permit applicant must satisfy the Nollan/Dolan requirements; there is a direct link between the demand and a specific parcel of real property. The Court rejected arguments that applying Nollan/Dolan scrutiny to money exactions will leave no principled way of distinguishing impermissible land-use exactions from property taxes, stating that its holding “will not work a revolution in land use law or unduly limit the discretion of local authorities to implement sensible land use regulations.” View "Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Mgmt. Dist." on Justia Law
Horne v. Department of Agriculture
The Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 (AMAA), enacted to stabilize prices for agricultural commodities, regulate “handlers,” defined as “processors, associations of producers, and others engaged in the handling” of covered agricultural commodities, 7 U.S.C. 608c(1). The California Raisin Marketing Order, promulgated under the AMAA, established a Raisin Administrative Committee, which recommends annual reserve pools of raisins not to be sold on the open domestic market and requires handlers to pay assessments to help cover administrative costs. The petitioners, raisin producers, refused to surrender requisite portions of raisins to the reserve. The USDA began administrative proceedings. An ALJ found that petitioners were handlers and had violated the AMAA and the Order, and rejected a takings defense. The district court entered summary judgment for the USDA. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Ninth Circuit had jurisdiction to decide the takings claim. Petitioners argued that they were producers, not subject to the AMAA or the Order, but the USDA and the district court concluded that they were handlers. Fines and penalties were levied on them in that capacity. Their takings claim, therefore, was necessarily raised in that capacity. The Ninth Circuit confused a statutory argument that they were producers with a constitutional argument that, if they were handlers, their fine violated the Fifth Amendment. The claim was ripe. The petitioners were subject to a final agency order; because the AMAA provides a comprehensive remedial scheme that withdraws Tucker Act jurisdiction over a handler’s takings claim, there is no alternative remedy. View "Horne v. Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law
Decker v. Nw Envtl Def. Ctr.
The Clean Water Act requires that National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits be secured before pollutants are discharged from any point source into navigable waters of the United States, 33 U. S. C. 1311(a), 1362(12). An Environmental Protection Agency implementing regulation, the Silvicultural Rule, specifies which types of logging-related discharges are point sources, requiring NPDES permits unless some other provision exempts them. One exemption covers “discharges composed entirely of stormwater,” 33 U. S. C. 1342(p)(1), unless the discharge is “associated with industrial activity.” Under the EPA’s Industrial Stormwater Rule, the term “associated with industrial activity” covers only discharges “from any conveyance that is used for collecting and conveying storm water and that is directly related to manufacturing, processing or raw materials storage areas at an industrial plant.” A final version of a recent amendment to the Industrial Stormwater Rule clarifies that the NPDES permit requirement applies only to logging operations involving rock crushing, gravel washing, log sorting, and log storage facilities, which are all listed in the Silvicultural Rule. Georgia-Pacific has a contract to harvest timber from an Oregon forest. When it rains, water runs off its logging roads into ditches that discharge the water into rivers and streams, often with sediment, which may be harmful to fish and other aquatic organisms. NEDC sued Georgia-Pacific and state and local governments. The district court dismissed, concluding that NPDES permits were not required because the ditches were not point sources of pollution under the CWA and the Silvicultural Rule. The Ninth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, first holding that section1369(b), did not bar the district court from hearing a citizen suit against an alleged violator and seeking to enforce an obligation imposed by the CWA. The recent amendment to the Industrial Stormwater Rule did not make the case moot. Past discharges might be the basis for penalties even if, in the future, those discharges will not require a permit. The pre-amendment Rule, as construed by the EPA, exempted discharges of channeled stormwater runoff from logging roads from the NPDES requirement. The regulation is a reasonable interpretation of the statutory term “associated with industrial activity;” it was reasonable for the EPA to conclude that the conveyances at issue are “directly related” only to harvesting raw materials, rather than to “manufacturing, processing, or raw materials storage areas at an industrial plant.” The EPA has been consistent in its view that the types of discharges at issue do not require NPDES permits. View "Decker v. Nw Envtl Def. Ctr." on Justia Law
AR Game & Fish Comm’n v. United States
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission owns and manages the Donaldson Black River Wildlife Management Area, 23,000 acres with multiple hardwood species and used for recreation and hunting. In 1948, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed Clearwater Dam upstream from the Area and adopted the Water Control Manual, setting seasonally varying rates for release of water from the Dam. From 1993-2000, the Corps, at the request of farmers, authorized deviations from the Manual that extended flooding into peak timber growing season. The Commission objected that deviations adversely impacted the Area, and opposed a proposal to make deviations part of the permanent water-release plan. After testing, the Corps abandoned the proposed Manual revision and ceased temporary deviations. The Commission sued, alleging that the deviations caused sustained flooding during growing season and that the cumulative impact of the flooding caused destruction of Area timber and substantial change in the terrain, necessitating costly reclamation. The Claims Court judgment ($5,778,757) in favor of the Commission was reversed by the Federal Circuit, which held that government-induced flooding can support a taking claim only if “permanent or inevitably recurring.” The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. Government-induced flooding of limited duration may be compensable. There is no blanket temporary-flooding exception to Takings Clause jurisprudence and no reason to treat flooding differently than other government intrusions. While the public interests are important, they are not categorically different from interests at stake in other takings cases. When regulation or temporary physical invasion by government interferes with private property, time is a factor in determining the existence of a compensable taking, as are the degree to which the invasion is intended or the foreseeable result of authorized government action, the character of the land, the owner’s “reasonable investment-backed expectations,” and the severity of the interference. View "AR Game & Fish Comm'n v. United States" on Justia Law
Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak
Petitioner requested that the Secretary of the Interior take into trust on its behalf a tract of land known as the Bradley Property, which petitioner intended to use "for gaming purposes." The Secretary took title to the property and respondent subsequently filed suit under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 500 et seq., asserting that the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), 25 U.S.C. 465, did not authorize the Secretary to acquire the property because petitioner was not a federally recognized tribe when the IRA was enacted in 1934. At issue was whether the United States had sovereign immunity from the suit by virtue of the Quiet Title Act (QTA), 86 Stat. 1176, and whether respondent had prudential standing to challenge the Secretary's acquisition. The Court held that the United States had waived its sovereign immunity from respondent's action under the QTA. The Court also held that respondent had prudential standing to challenge the Secretary's acquisition where respondent's interests came within section 465's regulatory ambit.