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‘Takings’ lawsuit comes up short on appeal

A federal appeals court has ruled that farmers aren't owed compensation for increased flood risk related to the raising of a dam in California by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

Published on December 17, 2013 12:09PM

Potential flooding of a landowner’s property by the government is not an unconstitutional taking, according to a federal appeals court.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed against the federal government by two farms in California, Stueve Bros. Farms and Mill Creek Farming Associates.

In 2008, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers raised the Prado Dam near Corona, Calif., which increased potential flooding of the farms’ property if water was released from the structure.

While flooding hasn’t occurred, the project prompted the local government to rezone the farms’ property for “recreation and open space use” — effectively preventing future commercial development.

A local flood control district had offered to buy the properties for $9 million, but the farms wanted more than $20 million and the negotiations foundered.

The farms filed a legal complaint against the government, alleging the agency had effectively “taken” its property without just compensation.

A federal judge rejected that argument last year and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has now upheld that ruling.

The sequence of events that limited uses of the farms’ property doesn’t rise to the level of an unconstitutional taking, the appellate court ruled.

“The actions of state and local officials in voluntarily implementing zoning restrictions that affect the landowner’s property do not become takings by the federal government just because the local officials act in cooperation with, or at the urging of, federal officials,” the ruling said.

Courts have recognized “de facto” takings by the government, but in those cases the government “substantially interfered” with property rights — for example, by prohibiting mining of the land, the ruling said.

In this case, there has been no physical invasion and no “federal statute, regulation or other directive has limited the plaintiffs’ rights with respect of the use of their property,” the appellate court said.


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