526 U.S. 687 (1999), argued 7 Oct. 1998, decided 24 May 1999 by vote of 5 to 4. Kennedy announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court with respect to four of the five parts of the decision; Souter, joined by O’Connor, Ginsburg, and Breyer, dissented in part.
Del Monte Dunes brought suit under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 after receiving five formal decisions by the city denying Del Monte the right to develop a 37.6 acre parcel located in the city of Monterey, California, and imposing more rigorous requirements on the proposed development. A section 1983 action allows a party to seek damages when deprived of a federal right. Del Monte Dunes alleged the city deprived it of due process of the law and equal protection of the law, and effected a regulatory taking of their property without paying just compensation.
The federal district court found for the city on Del Monte's due process claim and, over the city's objection, permitted the jury to ascertain liability under Del Monte's taking claim. It instructed the jury to find for Del Monte if it “found either that Del Monte Dunes had been denied all economically viable use of its property” or that the city's rejection of Del Monte's development proposals “did not substantially advance a legitimate public purpose” (p. 700). The jury found for Del Monte in the amount of $1.45 million and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
This was the first takings case in which the Court upheld the award of monetary damages for a regulatory taking. Significantly, the Court held that the question of liability on a regulatory takings claim was properly submitted to a jury in a section 1983 action. The case also reminds governmental officials that there must be a good faith effort to deal with property owners. The Court left uncertain, however, the relationship of substantive due process to the law of regulatory takings.
Randy T. Simmons