First English Evangelical Lutheran Church of Glendale v. County of Los Angeles, California

PETITIONER: First English Evangelical Lutheran Church of Glendale
RESPONDENT: County of Los Angeles, California
LOCATION: Wisconsin Eastern U.S. District Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 85-1199
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 482 US 304 (1987)
ARGUED: Jan 14, 1987
DECIDED: Jun 09, 1987

ADVOCATES:
Jack R. White - Argued the cause for the appellee
Michael M. Berger - Argued the cause for the appellant

Facts of the case

In 1979, the County of Los Angeles passed an ordinance which prohibited construction or reconstruction on land which had been devastated by a flood one year earlier. The First English Evangelical Lutheran Church owned a campground which was affected by this ordinance and it was not allowed to reconstruct buildings on this land which the flood had destroyed.

Question

Did the ordinance violate the Fifth Amendment (as applied to the states through the Fourteenth) which prevents government from taking private property for public use without providing just compensation to the owner of the property?

Media for First English Evangelical Lutheran Church of Glendale v. County of Los Angeles, California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 14, 1987 in First English Evangelical Lutheran Church of Glendale v. County of Los Angeles, California

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Berger, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Michael M. Berger:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

Last term in MacDonald, Sommer & Frates versus County of Yolo, this Court found itself unable to reach the question of whether the just compensation guarantee is invoked when a local government regulation takes the use of private property, and it found itself unable to each that question because the California Court of Appeals had based its decision on two separate independent grounds:

One, that no taking had been properly alleged in the complaint; and two, that even if one had been properly alleged in the complaint, that California law forbade just compensation as a remedy.

This Court thus concluded that, since it could find that the independent holding that there was not a proper allegation of a taking was sufficient to justify the decision, it need not reach the compensation issue.

This case is different.

Here the California Court of Appeals dealt with only one issue, and it reached its conclusion for only one reason.

And since that takes only one sentence, I'd like to reread it to the Court:

"We conclude that because the United States Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the question of whether a state may constitutionally limit the remedy for a taking to non-monetary relief, this court is obligated to follow Agins. "

Of course, the Agins opinion which the Court of Appeals was referring to was the 1979 decision of the California Supreme Court which concluded that monetary damages in the form of just compensation are not available for a regulation which takes the use of property.

Thus, adhering to the respect which this Court in MacDonald said must be paid to the decisions of the California Court of Appeals on matter of local law and local pleading, we would submit that the compensation issue which the Court was unable to reach in MacDonald is squarely before the Court in this case, because it's the only question of a federal nature that the California Court of Appeals dealt with and it's the only issue that was litigated on this question in the California courts.

William H. Rehnquist:

And you say you raised a federal constitutional claim of this sort in the California Court of Appeals?

Michael M. Berger:

Yes, sir.

And that's the issue that the California Court of Appeals dealt with.

They clearly analyzed the decision of the California Supreme Court in Agins in light of what had happened in this Court in its decisions since Agins, primarily the San Diego Gas & Electric opinions, and concluded that this Court had not yet clearly enough indicated what its feelings were for California to reach a different conclusion, and therefore it found itself bound by the California--

William H. Rehnquist:

For it, at any rate, to reach a different conclusion than the Supreme Court of California had reached.

Michael M. Berger:

--Well, that's true, and for any California court to reach a different conclusion.

In the reply brief, for example, we've collected all of post-Agins California decisions.

The California Supreme Court twice since Agins has reiterated the rule that regulations cannot lead to just compensation.

The California Court of Appeals in a dozen or more cases in varying contexts has held that damages under just compensation cannot be awarded for a regulatory taking of property, and they've held that even in cases which were expressly brought as federal civil rights cases under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 in state courts.

Byron R. White:

In California, I take it they say that you can get a declaration of invalidity and an injunction?

Michael M. Berger:

That is what the California courts say.

Byron R. White:

And an injunction?

Michael M. Berger:

Well, that I suppose would go along with the declaration of invalidity.

Byron R. White:

Well, in any event, what's really left over is whether you can get damages for a temporary taking.

Michael M. Berger:

If you get a declaration of invalidity, what's left is compensation for the other period of time, that's correct, Your Honor.

Byron R. White:

And saying that you can't get damages for a temporary taking is a federal constitutional issue?

Michael M. Berger:

Yes, sir.

Byron R. White:

And just like whether there was a taking in the first place.

Michael M. Berger:

It's a question of degree and of degree only.