Nectow v. Cambridge

277 U.S. 183



The governmental power to interfere by zoning regulations with the general rights of the land owner by restricting the character of his use is not unlimited. Other questions aside, such a restriction cannot be imposed if it does not bear a substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare.


Plaintiff is a landowner, filed an action against the defendant, for violation of the plaintiff's due process rights under the 14th Amendment after the defendant passed a zoning ordinance which rezoned the plaintiff's land for residential use. The plaintiff sought an injunction and claimed that it should have been compensated by defendant. The state supreme court upheld the zoning ordinance, and the plaintiff appealed.


Did the defendant's passage of the zoning ordinance violated the plaintiff's 14th Amendment rights?




On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court's ruling. First, the court explained that the ordinance effectively cut off part of petitioner's tract, interfered with a prospective sale of the property, and prevented the tract from being developed for residential purposes. The rezoning had rendered the tract worthless. Moreover, respondent's overall rezoning scheme would not be defeated by exempting petitioner from its requirements. The court said that although respondent had broad power to restrict the petitioner's rights through zoning ordinances, that power was not unlimited. Respondent could not exercise its power arbitrarily or irrationally, without relation to public health, morals, and safety. In this case, the respondent had exercised its power irrationally. Without an adequate basis for its action, respondent had violated petitioner's rights under the 14th Amendment.

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