US Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Property Rights

Posted By: William Shadbolt WBPA News,

Today the US Supreme Court issued their ruling in the only property takings case of this term, confirming the right to exclude is a fundamental property right.  The case involved Cedar Point Nursery in California and a Californian law that granted unions the right to access any farm for up to three hours a day, 120 days a year.  The question presented to the court was whether an easement that is limited in time, qualifies as a per se taking under the Fifth Amendment.  

Chief Justice Roberts eloquently wrote:

"The Founders recognized that the protection of private property is indispensable to the promotion of individual freedom. As John Adams tersely put it, “[p]roperty must be secured, or liberty cannot exist.Discourses on Davila, in 6 Works of John Adams (C. Adams ed. 1851). This Court agrees, having noted that protection of property rights is “necessary to preserve freedom” and “empowers persons to shape and to plan their own destiny in a world where governments are always eager to do so for them.” Murr v. Wisconsin"

Overruling the District Court, Ninth Circuit and Agricultural Labor Relations Board, Roberts observed that "The right to exclude is “one of the most treasured” rights of property ownership. Loretto v. Teleprompter Manhattan CATV Corp., 458 U. S. 419, 435 (1982). According to Blackstone, the very idea of property entails “that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe.” 2 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 2 (1766). In less exuberant terms, we have stated that the right to exclude is “universally held to be a fundamental element of the property right,” and is “one of the most essential sticks in the bundle of rights that are commonly characterized as property.” Kaiser Aetna v. United States, 444 U. S. 164, 176, 179–180 (1979); see Dolan v. City of Tigard, 512 U. S. 374, 384, 393 (1994); Nollan v. California Coastal Comm’n, 483 U. S. 825, 831 (1987); see also Merrill, Property and the Right to Exclude, 77 Neb. L. Rev. 730 (1998) (calling the right to exclude the “sine qua non” of property)."  The literal meaning of sine qua non is "without which, not", or a thing that is absolutely necessary or an essential condition.

Addressing the prior rulings and dissent,

"The dissent likewise concludes that the regulation cannot amount to a per se taking because it allows “access short of 365 days a year.” Post, at 11 (opinion of BREYER, J.). That position is insupportable as a matter of precedent and common sense. There is no reason the law should analyze an abrogation of the right to exclude in one manner if it extends for 365 days, but in an entirely different manner if it lasts for 364."

While the case may seem to be about union access to farms in California, the ruling is in fact a significant win for every American property owner.  Simply put the government can't masquerade the taking of a property right as a mere regulation.  The dissent argued that the government should have "this kind of latitude toward temporary invasions is a practical necessity for governing in our complex modern world". Rebutting this the Chief Justice wrote, "With regard to the complexities of modern society, we think they only reinforce the importance of safeguarding the basic property rights that help preserve individual liberty, as the Founders explained."

The case is Pacific Legal Foundation's 13th victory out of 15 cases heard by the Supreme Court of the United States, the best record in modern history.  WBPA is eager to work with Pacific Legal Foundation and our industry partners at the Rental Housing Association of Washington as we take on property rights litigation under this new precedent in Washington State.