Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council Case Brief

Facts of the case

In 1986, Lucas bought two residential lots on the Isle of Palms, a South Carolina barrier island. He intended to build single-family homes as on the adjacent lots. In 1988, the state legislature enacted a law which barred Lucas from erecting permanent habitable structures on his land. The law aimed to protect erosion and destruction of barrier islands. Lucas sued and won a large monetary judgment. The state appealed.

Why is the case important?

Lucas (Petitioner) bought two residential lots on the Isle of Palms in Charleston County, South Carolina, upon which he intended to build single-family homes. In 1988, the South Carolina Legislature enacted the Beachfront Management Act (Act), barred Petitioner from erecting any permanent structures on the two lots.


Has Petitioner’s property been taken in a way that requires just compensation?


Yes. It is unreasonable for a state to prohibit the owner from using the land as he originally intended, unless it can be shown that this use results in a nuisance or that general property law prohibits such a use. The Supreme Court of the United State (Supreme Court) observed that mandated preservation of private land looks like a conversion of private property to public, a classic taking. Regulation of land use must account for owners’ traditional understanding as to the states power over their property rights. By way of example the Supreme Court stated that the owner of a lake bed is always aware that he may be stopped by law from flooding adjacent property to create a landfill. However, here, since a state’s common law principles would not prohibit the Petitioner from building on the land, then a taking has occurred.


The Court held that there be a total takinganalysis which looks to three things: 1) the degree of harm to public lands and resources, or adjacent private property, posed by the claimant’s proposed activities , 2) the social value of the claimant’s activities and their suitability to the locality in question, and 3) the relative ease with which the alleged harm can be avoided through measures taken by the claimant and the government (or adjacent private landowners). It would be unreasonable for the state to prevent a landowner from using their property as intended unless the could prove that the use would have been a nuisance. Here, the land was deprived of all economically beneficial use and the Court held that the state cannot regulated away all of the property’s economical use.

  • Advocates: C. C. Harness, III on behalf of the Respondent A. Camden Lewis Argued the cause for the petitioner
  • Petitioner: Lucas
  • Respondent: South Carolina Coast Council
  • DECIDED BY:Rehnquist Court
  • Location: Charleston County Court of Common Pleas
Citation: 505 US 1003 (1992)
Argued: Mar 2, 1992
Decided: Jun 29, 1992
Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council Case Brief