Suitum v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

PETITIONER: Suitum
RESPONDENT: Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
LOCATION: New York State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 96-243
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 520 US 725 (1997)
ARGUED: Feb 26, 1997
DECIDED: May 27, 1997

ADVOCATES:
Lawrence G. Wallace - Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court, supporting the respondent
Richard J. Lazarus - Argued the cause for the respondent
R. S. Radford - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Bernadine Suitum owned an undeveloped lot near Lake Tahoe. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency determined that the lot was ineligible for development under agency regulations. However, the agency determined that Suitum was entitled to "Transferable Development Rights" (TDRs) that she could sell to other landowners with the agency's approval. Rather than sell her TDRs, Suitum filed suit claiming that the agency's determination amounted to a regulatory taking of her property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court held that Suitum's claim was unjusticible because she had not attempted to sell her TDRs. The Court of Appeals affirmed, reasoning that an agency action on a TDR transfer application would be the requisite "final decision" regarding Suitum's lot in order for her claim to be ripe for adjudication.

Question

Must property owners attempt to sell their developmental rights before claiming the regulatory taking of property without just compensation, in accordance with the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments?

Media for Suitum v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 26, 1997 in Suitum v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 27, 1997 in Suitum v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

The opinion of the Court in No. 96-243, Suitum versus Tahoe Regional Planning Agency will be announced by Justice Souter.

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

It involves land that petitioner Suitum owns near Lake Tahoe.

Respondent Tahoe Regional Planning Agency determined that Suitum's lot is ineligible for development under agency regulations but that she is entitled to receive certain allegedly valuable Transferable Development Rights or TDRs that she can sell to other land owners with the agency's approval.

Suitum did not seek to exercise those rights, but instead brought this action claiming that the agency's determination amounted to a regulatory taking it for a property without just compensation.

The District Court in the Ninth Circuit held at Suitum's case is not right for judicial review because she has not applied to the agency for permission to transfer her TDRs, so that there has been no final decision by the agency about the application of its regulation to Suitum's land.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk of Court today we reverse.

We find that Suitum has received a final decision from the agency consistent with our prudential ripeness requirements.

It is undisputed that the agency has finally determined that Suitum's lot lies entirely within a zone where development is not permitted, and that the agency has no discretion to exercise over her right to use her land.

In addition, there remains little or no uncertainty about Suitum's right to receive TDRs or her right to transfer them.

The agency does not deny that there are many potential lawful buyers whose receipt of the TDRs would unquestionably be approved.

Therefore, all that is left to be done in connection with the TDRs is the evaluation which is a question suitable for judicial determination, and on which the District Court had considerable evidence before it.

Finally, although the parties contest the relevance of the TDRs to the question of whether a taking has occurred, resolution of that legal issue will require no further agency action.

Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Justices O'Connor and Thomas have joined.