Victory for Property Rights Hailed by Institute for Justice

John Kramer
John Kramer · May 24, 1999

Washington, D.C.-Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding a jury verdict against Monterey, California, for refusing to allow property owners to develop their property represents, “another step forward in the revitalization of private property rights,” declared Clint Bolick, litigation director of the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based libertarian public interest law firm. The Institute submitted an amicus curiae brief with University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein in City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes.

As the Court described it, the developer endured “five years, five formal decisions, and 19 different site plans” attempting to develop a housing development that conformed with city zoning requirements. They finally sued the city for taking their property and for violating due process and equal protection. A jury awarded $1.45 million in damages.

The Court held 9-0 that the city could be liable if it denied the developer all economically viable use of its property or if the decision did not substantially advance a legitimate governmental objective. The Court ruled 5-4 that the developer was entitled to a jury trial.

“This decision is a double victory for property owners, recognizing both substantive and procedural protection,” Bolick stated. “Jury trials are important in deterring instances of grassroots tyranny visited by local government upon their citizens.”

“Too often, local governments force property owners to endure countless hearings and delays before they can enjoy their property,” he added. “This decision should limit arbitrary and oppressive decision-making by local bureaucrats.”