April 04, 2017

PLF asks High Court to accept important Washington property rights case

CITY OF SAMMAMISH, WA; April 4, 2017:  Pacific Legal Foundation is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to accept an important “takings” lawsuit against Sammamish for employing an evasive strategy to confiscate a landowner’s use of his property without paying “just compensation” as required by the Constitution.

PLF represents the property owner in this case, Elliott Severson, who purchased a parcel of commercially zoned property located next to other commercial development along 228th Avenue, N.E.  At the time he bought the land, there was ample space to build a small restaurant or store while respecting all critical area restrictions.  However, over the course of a few years, the city ratcheted up its land use regulations to the point that his property was rendered useless.

When government denies all productive use of a parcel of property, as happened to Severson, the Fifth Amendment’s “Takings Clause” requires reimbursement.  However, the city refused to pay Severson a penny — offering the excuse that he had already been permitted to develop neighboring (but separate) parcels of property in the past.  For this reason, the city claimed, he had not actually suffered a denial of his property rights.

“The city is using a creative excuse to deny justice — and just compensation — to a landowner who has been stripped of all productive use of a parcel of property that he owns,” said Brian Hodges, managing attorney with PLF’s Pacific Northwest office in Bellevue.  “We are asking the Supreme Court to accept this case because the Fifth Amendment doesn’t permit government to seize property without reimbursement — and bureaucrats cannot be allowed to define that mandate away.”

With its just-filed petition for certiorari, PLF asks the justices to accept Severson’s case — but to hold off on hearing it or ruling on it until the justices have ruled on another, already accepted PLF case, Murr v. Wisconsin and St. Croix County, which they heard on March 20.  As with Severson’s case, Murr focuses on the question, what is the “relevant parcel” for analyzing a takings claim?  Specifically, it asks whether landowners can be denied compensation for the taking of a parcel of property merely because they also own other, nearby land.

“In both the Murr case and Mr. Severson’s case, governments have essentially said that the more property someone owns, the more the government can take without paying for it,” said Hodges.  “The Supreme Court should call a halt to these efforts to subvert constitutional protections through regulatory maneuvers.”

Case Documents

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About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 39 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 11 victories out of 13 cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

For Media: If you are on deadline or need immediate assistance, please call/email our media team at 202-465-8733 or media@pacificlegal.org

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