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Monterey, City of v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd.

Citation: 29 ELR 21133
No. 97-1235, 526 U.S. 687/(U.S., 05/24/1999)

The Court holds that the issue of liability in a developer's regulatory takings claim against a city was properly submitted to a jury. After the city imposed more rigorous demands each time it denied five proposals to develop a 37.6-acre oceanfront parcel in Monterey, California, the developer filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court first holds that the circuit court's application of the rough proportionality standard of Dolan v. City of Tigard, 512 U.S. 374, 24 ELR 21083 (1994), was improper in this case, but that the circuit court's discussion was unnecessary to its decision to sustain the jury's verdict. The rule applied in Dolan considers whether dedications demanded as conditions of development are proportional to the development's anticipated impacts. It was not designed to address the much different questions arising where a landowner's challenge is based not on excessive exactions, but on denial of development.

The Court then holds that it was not error for the circuit court to hold that the jury could have found the city's denial of the final development plan not reasonably related to legitimate public interests. The jury was not given free rein to second-guess the city's land use policies. The question submitted to the jury was confined to whether, in light of all the history and the context of the case, the city's particular decision to deny the developer's final development proposal was reasonably related to the city's proffered justifications. In addition, the city's argument that as a matter of law, its land use decisions are immune from judicial scrutiny under all circumstances is contrary to settled regulatory takings principles.

The Court next holds that the developer's suit was an action at law. There is no doubt that § 1983 actions sound in tort. Just as common-law tort actions provide redress for interference with protected personal or property interests, § 1983 provides relief for invasions of rights protected under federal law. Moreover, the developer sought legal relief in that it sought just compensation and damages for the unconstitutional denial of just compensation. The Court further holds that the issues of liability in this case were proper for determination by the jury. The issue of whether a landowner has been deprived of all economically viable use of his property is a predominantly factual question and, thus, a question for the jury. Therefore, the Court holds that it was proper for the district court to submit the question of liability on the developer's takings claim to the jury.

Justice Souter, with whom Justices O'Connor, Ginsburg, and Breyer joined, dissented in part from the majority opinion. Justice Souter would hold that the district court erred in submitting the developer's claim to a jury because the developer had no right to a jury trial on the issue either by statute or under the U.S. Constitution.

[A prior decision in this litigation is published at 27 ELR 20139. Briefs and Pleadings in this litigation are digested at ELR BRIEFS & PLEADS. 66617 and 66673.]

Counsel for Petitioner
Richard E.V. Harris
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
Old Federal Reserve Bank Bldg.
400 Sansome St., San Francisco CA 94111
(415) 392-1122

Counsel for Respondent
Michael M. Berger
Berger & Norton
1620 26th St., Ste. 200 S., Santa Monica CA 90404
(310) 449-1000