Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council


The petitioner bought properties along the beach in 1986 for a little less than $1M dollars.  He also owned two vacant lots which were beachfront properties.  Two of the properties were in the Beachwood East Subdivision of the Wild Dunes development.  However, in 1988 the South Carolina legislature passed an Act that disallowed Lucas from erecting buildings along his property.  The intent of the act was to protect the coast from storm surge and beach erosion.  Lucas claimed the Act was the same as a taking by the state because it disallowed him from doing with his property as he pleased.


Whether a state law that disallows the building of homes along a particular coast results in a takings for which the land owner should be compensated.


Yes, under the 5th and 14th amendments, the Act is a taking for which compensation should be awarded.  The court stated that the land which Lucas owned was deprived substantially of its value as a result of the Act, so much so that it constituted a taking.  “When the owner of real property has been called upon to sacrifice all economically beneficial uses in the name of the common good he has suffered taking.”

The rule proposed by the court was that a landowner should be allowed to use the land has he sees fit unless his use is a nuisance or the established law prohibits the use of a property in a certain way.   The legislature cannot be said through the Act to be adjusting economic benefits and burdens to Lucas when all of his property’s benefit is restricts.  Act’s such as this one can be a cover for converting private land into public use – where the Act doesn’t directly confiscate the land, but can instead deprive the owner entirely of its value.  Because there is no way to distinguish the complete deprivation of the beneficial use of the land and a complete taking, the Act is equivalent to a taking.  The existing common law in this case would not disallow Lucas from building on his beachfront property.  Therefore, the regulation constitutes a taking.

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