Supreme Court Ready to Hear 2 Important Cases

Filed in Land Development, Legal by on September 28, 2018 1 Comment

United States Supreme CourtThe U.S. Supreme Court starts a new term on Monday, Oct. 1 with two cases that home builders have been following closely.

The opening argument of the term, Weyerhaeuser v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, involves a clash between two NAHB members and the dusky gopher frog.

In 2012, the Fish and Wildlife Service designed 1,555 acres of the members’ Louisiana timberland as “unoccupied critical habitat” for the endangered frog, locking down an estimated $34 million in lost development opportunities.

The service concedes that no frogs live on the land in question – nor have any been seen or smelled anywhere in the state for more than 50 years.  In fact, the only way to make the property suitable for the frog is through intensive land management practices, an imposition the FWS admits it may not force on private land owners.

NAHB has been involved in the case from the start, most recently weighing in with an amicus brief in support of Supreme Court review.  As detailed in NAHB’s brief, placing such constraints on the use of private property under the cover of nonexistent endangered species demands strict judicial scrutiny.  Otherwise, no one’s land will be safe.

On Oct.3, the court will hear arguments in a property rights case, Knick v. Township of Scott. The Knick case deals with a local ordinance that forces private property owners to allow the public on their land when there is evidence of a gravesite.

A government official claims to have found evidence of a gravesite on the Knick property, which the landowner disputes. Knick brought a takings claim to challenge the ordinance, but the lower courts refused to even hear the case due to a 1985 Supreme Court decision, Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, which requires plaintiffs to bring takings cases in state court prior to bringing a constitutional takings claim in federal court. This is a heavy financial and time burden on property owners.

Government defendants use Williamson County to wear down plaintiffs well before a federal court has the opportunity to hear a takings claim on the merits. NAHB has long argued that Williamson County should be overturned, through amicus briefs and efforts to find a Constitutional fix.  The Knick case is the best opportunity in over 30 years to overturn Williamson County.

For additional information, contact NAHB Senior Counsel Jeff Augello or Staff Counsel Devala Janardan.

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  1. Tracie E Englen says:

    This is another reason why people need to get involved in the political process. Special interest groups are taking away our rights and freedom and costing land owner’s so much money and grief …but of course these very special interest groups usually do not own land or they own so much that they want it all to be in their special cartel of land owners. We need less government regulations and thank God for President Trump!

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