Pacific Legal Foundation Wins Takings Clause Case!

By Cindy Alia 4/16/24

Pacific Legal Foundation, in the case Sheetz v. El Dorado County , won important property rights protection when the  Supreme Court unanimously said legislatures can't impose extortionate fees to get a building permit.  

George Sheetz built a career and livelihood as an engineering contractor and consultant in Northern California. In 2016, he began preparing for retirement and bought a vacant lot in rural El Dorado County for a small, manufactured home where he and his wife would live and raise their grandson.

He got his home, but it came with permit fees so exorbitant, a $23,420 traffic impact fee, that he made a federal case out of it—a case that went the Supreme Court of the United States.

George weighed the immense cost against the hard work he put into his land and his yearning for a retirement home, and he paid the fee under protest. The County ignored his protest, so George sued, arguing the fees constituted an unconstitutional permit condition under three Supreme Court decisions—including two PLF victories.

On April 12, 2024, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in George’s favor. “[T]here is no basis for affording property rights less protection in the hands of legislators than administrators,” Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote in the decision. “The Takings Clause applies equally to both—which means that it prohibits legislatures and agencies alike from imposing unconstitutional conditions on land-use permits.”

Read the Pacific Legal Foundations article to appreciate the details of this successful court case, including the precedent set in three cases, two of which involved Pacific Legal Foundation wins.  Those precedents spell out these principle foundations when considering property rights: 

All permit conditions imposed on land development must relate to actual harm caused by the development.

Government demands must be sufficiently proportional to the actual impacts of the proposed use.

Government cannot weaponize the permitting process to extort more land or money from property owners than is appropriate.

Now this important principle applies to properties as well, while local governments can charge fees to mitigate for actual public impacts caused by a private project, demanding property in an amount that goes above and beyond that mitigation standard is a taking. 

Read this Pacific Legal Foundation article to learn about this case, Sheetz v El Dorado County and the unconstitutional conditions doctrine , and the cases leading up to this winning case, Nolan v California Coastal Commission , and St Johns River Water Management v Koontz. 

Take heart, these winning sets of litigation, are establishing strict limits on governmental exactions, takings, and over-reach!  Sheetz v. El Dorado County is Pacific Legal Foundation’s 18th victory at the Supreme Court. PLF joined Paul Beard, partner at Pierson Ferdinand, as co-counsel in the case. 

Pacific Legal Foundation has provided this link to the Supreme Court slip decision.

Thank you Pacific Legal Foundation for your great work, and thank you for giving CAPR permission to use and link your articles directly to the CAPR website and blog!

April 16, 2024