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Issues in Land Use Law & Zoning

The Supreme Court Takes on “Takings”: Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council

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On June 29, 1992, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in the high profile “takings” case, Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council (112 S.Ct. 2886). During its journey from the South Carolina courts to the United States Supreme Court, the case was hailed as a potential landmark in “takings” jurisprudence. Property rights advocates were particularly optimistic that the Court would take the opportunity in Lucas to strengthen protections for private property rights. The case probably fell short of these expectations, however, because the opinion was both narrowly drawn and raised new questions that will require further examination. This article discusses the decision, and analyzes its impacts.

In 1986, David Lucas purchased two residential lots on a South Carolina barrier island for $975,000. At the time, one single-family residence would have been allowed on each of the lots, and no permits would have been required from the South Carolina Coastal Council (“Council”). In 1988, South Carolina enacted the Beachfront Management Act (“Act”), which directed the Council to establish a “baseline” along the shoreline, seaward of which occupiable improvements would be prohibited. For David Lucas, the baseline drawn by the Council had the direct effect of barring the development of any habitable structures on his property.

Lucas filed suit in state court, arguing that the Act and its construction ban effected a taking of his property without just compensation, in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Lucas contended that the Act deprived him of his property’s entire value, and that he was entitled to compensation regardless of whether the State had legitimate reasons for enacting the legislation. …

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