Dan King
Dan King · July 1, 2024

ARLINGTON, Va.—On Friday, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that governments that take private property must actually pay for what they take, rejecting a local sewerage board’s argument that it had fulfilled its constitutional duty to pay “just compensation” by giving property owners what amounted to an unenforceable IOU. The Institute for Justice (IJ), which submitted an amicus brief in the case, applauds the court for the ruling. 

“Until Friday, Louisiana government agencies took the position that the Constitution required them to pay just compensation when they took property but also didn’t require them to actually pay anything on the judgments courts entered ordering them to pay for the property they took,” said IJ Attorney Brian Morris. “This ruling closes one of the biggest loopholes in American property rights, and it ensures that ‘compensation’ means actual payment, not meaningless IOUs.” 

From 2013 to 2016, several landowners in New Orleans had their property either damaged or their ability to use their home and church interfered with while the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (SWB) worked on a flood control project called the Southeast Louisiana Urban Drainage Project (SELA).  

Following the damage to their properties, the neighbors sued the SWB for the damage. The property owners won an inverse condemnation claim, and the court awarded them $998,872 in cumulative damages and $517,231 in attorney’s fees. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal of Louisiana upheld that ruling. But the SWB has refused to pay. 

“The Constitution’s requirements are just that – requirements, not suggestions,” said IJ Deputy Litigation Director Robert McNamara. “The government’s argument that it could withhold payment when it damages someone’s property was always absurd, and property owners across Louisiana should sleep a little better now that the Louisiana Supreme Court has said so.” 

For decades, IJ has fought for the right of individuals to receive just compensation when the government takes or destroys their property for a public use. Recently, IJ won a case 9-0 at the United States Supreme Court, protecting the right of a Texas rancher to seek compensation after the state built a dam on a nearby highway, causing devastating floods on his land. Last week, IJ petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a case seeking compensation for an innocent woman whose Texas home was destroyed by a SWAT team in 2020.