Lost: A federal court of appeals held that property owners don't have a right to a jury trial when the federal government takes their land.

Kevin Brott, joined by 20 other individual, family, and small business landowners, sued for compensation after the federal government took an easement over their land, converting an abandoned railroad corridor into a public recreational trail under the jurisdiction of the federal Surface Transportation Board. A federal statute grants the Court of Federal Claims jurisdiction to hear inverse condemnation claims against the federal government when the amount exceeds $10,000. These courts are authorized under Article I of the Constitution, which governs the Executive branch. It differs from Article III courts in that it does not have lifetime appointed judges and there is no opportunity for a jury trial. Brott filed a lawsuit in the Court of Federal Claims as required but also sued in an Article III federal district court to challenge the constitutionality of the statute that requires him to forego a jury trial by seeking compensation in an Article I court.

PLF supports Brott’s challenge and filed amicus briefs in both the district court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. PLF’s brief explores the history of jury trials in American jurisprudence, with a special focus on the strong traditional of jury trials in takings cases. The importance of jury trials was enshrined in the Seventh Amendment and the historical right to a jury in eminent domain cases should apply equally to the inverse condemnation context.

What’s At Stake?

  • Because the Constitution guarantees property owners the ability to litigate their Fifth Amendment right to compensation in an Article III court, the separation of powers prohibits Congress from conferring judicial power on non-Article III tribunals such as the Court of Federal Claims.
  • The institution of the jury has long protected citizens against overreaching government. Yet most suits against the federal government currently don’t get a jury. Article III courts should insist on performing their duty to protect individual liberty.

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