Law School Case Brief
Lucas v. S.C. Coastal Council - 309 S.C. 424, 424 S.E.2d 484 (1992)
No common law basis exists by which a coastal council can restrain an owner's desired use of his land.
In 1986, David H. Lucas (Lucas) purchased two oceanfront lots on the Isle of Palms, South Carolina. At the time of purchase, both lots were zoned and suitable for single-family residential construction. Prior to Lucas's commencing construction on these lots, the Legislature of South Carolina enacted the 1988 Beachfront Management Act (1988 Act). Under the 1988 Act, South Carolina Coastal Council (Coastal Council) was charged with establishing new baselines and setback lines for the coast. Lucas's lots were entirely seaward of the baseline and setback line was drawn for the area in which Lucas's property was located. Thus, as a consequence of the 1988 Act, Lucas was restrained from constructing any more than a walkway or small deck on his property. Thereafter, Lucas filed a summons and complaint in which he alleged that the 1988 Act constituted a permanent taking of his private property without just compensation. The trial judge held that the 1988 Act did constitute a permanent, total taking of private property without just compensation in contravention of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 13 of the South Carolina Constitution. The Coastal Council appealed.
Was David Lucas entitled to just compensation as a result of the 1988 Act under which he was restrained from constructing any more than a walkway or small deck on his purchased property?
The Supreme Court held that where the State sought to sustain a regulation that deprived the land of all economically beneficial use, it could resist compensation only if the logically antecedent inquiry into the nature of the landowner's estate showed that the proscribed use interests were not part of his title to begin with. The Supreme Court remanded to the court to allow the coastal council the opportunity to identify background principles of nuisance and property law by which the landowner could be restrained from constructing a habitable structure on his land. The court held that the coastal council did not possess the ability under the common law to prohibit the landowner from constructing a habitable structure on his land. Thus, the sole issue on remand to the circuit court level was a determination of damages sustained as the result of the landowner's being temporarily deprived of the use of his property. The court granted leave to the parties to amend their pleadings and present evidence of the actual damages the landowner had sustained as a result of the State's temporary non-acquisitory taking of his property without just compensation.
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