October 22, 2012

PLF asks Supreme Court to review shoreline moratorium case: Samson v. City of Bainbridge Island

By Brian T. Hodges Senior Attorney

PLF is continuing the fight to help shoreline property owners in Bainbridge Island, Washington, secure a legal remedy for losses they suffered when the city put a series of unlawful development moratoria on their properties.  In 2007, the Washington Supreme Court held that the city did not have authority to enact the moratoria.  But when the property owners pressed their claims for damages in federal court, the Ninth Circuit turned them away.  The owners recently filed a petition for writ of certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court, and we filed an amicus brief in support.

The problem, as we highlight in our brief, is:

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the decision below acknowledged that the city did not possess authority to enact the moratoria.  Therefore, the only question was whether, by acting ultra vires in a manner that deprived the Petitioners of their property rights, the city violated substantive due process.  The court, seemingly confused about the legal standard to apply, began to analyze the Petitioners’ claims to determine if the city had acted arbitrarily or irrationally.  However, the court then switched standards and concluded that the city did not violate the Petitioners’ substantive due process rights because imposing the ultra vires moratoria did not equate to “egregious” conduct.

The case presents a good opportunity for the Court to determine whether the government violates property owners’ substantive due process rights when it enacts land use regulations beyond the scope of its authority, and what legal standard should apply when property owners challenge such conduct.

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