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Schooner Harbor Ventures, Inc. v. United States

ELR Citation: 39 ELR 20132
Nos. No. 2008-5084, (Fed. Cir., 06/16/2009)

The Federal Circuit reversed a lower court's dismissal of a property owner's claim for just compensation after the FWS required mitigation in connection with its sale of property to the U.S. Navy. A property owner sought to sell some of its land to the U.S. Navy. But because the FWS deemed the site critical habitat for the Mississippi Sandhill Crane, the owner had to purchase another site to be added to a nearby refuge as a mitigation measure before it could sell the site to the Navy. The owner argued this amounted to a compensable taking. The lower court ruled that the owner's asserted interest—the right to sell its land without any conditions—was not a recognizable property right. In so holding, the lower court mischaracterized both the property interest and regulatory restriction relevant to this case. The owner's claim does identify a cognizable property interest--the right to develop its land--and it plausibly alleged that FWS has, by regulation, affected that right. The proper focus is on FWS' regulation of development, not on the Navy’s purchase. The fact that FWS' actions took place during negotiations for a sale to the Navy does not change the nature of the fundamental property interest asserted, nor does it change the owner's allegations that it was FWS that "took" its property rights. On remand, the lower court must consider if and when any claim ripened as well as all of the factors relevant to the owner's investment-backed expectations.