CITY OF WASHINGTON (June 28, 2021)—today the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the City and County of San Francisco, California. The Court granted the petitioner a writ of certiorari, vacated the judgment of the Ninth Circuit,
and remanded the case for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
In it’s opinion the Court wrote “the Ninth Circuit’s view of finality is incorrect. The finality requirement is relatively modest. All a plaintiff must show is that “there [is] no question . . . about how the ‘regulations at issue apply to the particular land in question.’”
“When a plaintiff alleges a regulatory taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment, a federal court should not consider
the claim before the government has reached a “final” decision,” wrote the Court.
“After all, until the government makes up its mind, a court will be hard pressed to determine whether the plaintiff has suffered a constitutional violation,” added the Court.
The Court wrote in it’s opinion “rather than remand petitioners’ claims —a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit simply affirmed. The Ninth Circuit’s — panel concluded that petitioners’ regulatory “takings claim remain[ed] unripe because they never obtained a final decision regarding the application of the Lifetime Lease Requirement to their Unit.”
Judge Bea dissented, explaining that the “‘finality’” requirement looks only to whether “‘the initial decisionmaker
has arrived at a definitive position on the issue.’” And when the Ninth Circuit declined to rehear the
case en banc, Judge Collins dissented along the same lines. He expressed concern that “the panel’s unprecedented decision sharply depart[ed] from settled law and directly contravene[d] .
The US Supreme Court’s Decision
The US Supreme Court ruled “We, too, think that the Ninth Circuit’s view of finality is incorrect. The finality requirement is relatively modest. All a plaintiff must show is that “there [is] no question . . . about how the ‘regulations at issue apply to the particular land in question.’” .
In this case, there is no question about the city’s position: Petitioners must “execute the lifetime lease” or face an “enforcement action.” Brief for Respondents 9. And there is no question that the government’s “definitive position on the issue [has] inflict[ed] an actual, concrete injury” of requiring petitioners to choose between surrendering possession
of their property or facing the wrath of the government.
This requirement ensures that a plaintiff has actually “been injured by the Government’s action” and is not prematurely
suing over a hypothetical harm.
The Court further wrote “Along the same lines, because a plaintiff who asserts a regulatory taking must prove that the government “regulation has gone ‘too far,’” the court must first “kno[w] how far the regulation goes.” —. Once the government is committed to a position, however, these potential ambiguities evaporate and the dispute is ripe for judicial resolution. The Ninth Circuit’s contrary approach—that a conclusive decision is not “final” unless the plaintiff also complied with administrative processes in obtaining that decision—is inconsistent with the ordinary operation of civil-rights suits.”
Read the Court’s entire opinion here: