Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Takings of Personal Property: The Importance of Framing A Case

Suppose a local government suddenly bans the production and sale of widgets because public opinion is that the widgets contribute to obesity. Although the land where the widget factory is located could be used for other purposes, the widgets are now worthless because they can’t be sold. And the widget maker has lost a great deal of the capital that was invested in the widget factory and equipment. Does the widget maker have an inverse condemnation claim? It may depend on whether his taking claim is framed as one for tangible or personal property, and not of real property. A claim that the real property had been taken would not likely be successful, since in this hypothetical, it could be used for other purposes.

Most readers will recall that there are physical takings and regulatory takings. Regulatory takings can be complete takings of all economically beneficial uses of a property—or they can be less, in which case courts use a balancing test to determine whether there has been a taking. Most of us in the environmental and land use arena are at least familiar with these concepts when it comes to real property. But what about tangible property?

As recent decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court and Florida courts make clear, tangible or personal property is also protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. In Horne v. Department of Agriculture, 576 U.S. _, No. 14-275 (2015), which was decided earlier this year and has been bouncing around the courts for years, the U.S. Supreme Court examined a federal regulation requiring raisin farmers to set aside a percentage of each year’s crop for the government’s benefit—without payment. The Supreme Court held this to be a taking, tracing back the law of personal property takings back to the Magna Carta. Further, it held that because the taking was physical (as opposed to merely a regulatory burden), there was a per se taking, without regard to whether any claimed public benefit or the economic impact on the owner.

Florida's First District Court of Appeal has agreed in a case involving Florida’s oft-ridiculed “pregnant pig” constitutional amendment that banned the use of gestation crates in 2002. State v. Basford, 119 So. 3d 478, 480 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013). There, a farmer who had made substantial improvements to his property and based his pork business on use of the crates brought an inverse condemnation suit against the state. Explaining that “real property, tangible property, and intangible property may be the subject of a takings claim,” the court emphasized that the farmer had not alleged a taking of real property. Id. at 483. Rather, he claimed that the constitutional amendment had taken all economically viable use of his business assets—which included barns, animal crates, a feed mill, and lab equipment. Id. at 481, 483.

In a colorful concurrence, Judge Wolf saw this taking as just as if the government decided, in lieu of seizing a tractor, that it would allow a farmer to keep the tractor but forbid the owner from turning it on. Id. at 484. This explanation should give property owners some cheer, since it hints that, as in Horne, complete restrictions in use of personal property should be compared to physical takings. And it gives the attorney a simple framework for thinking about these kinds of problems.

Both these cases are instances of a takings case being successfully (and creatively) framed. In Horne, there was no way to frame a real property takings claim, and in Basford, the court itself recognized that a real property takings claim would not have had much of a chance of success. Inverse condemnation claims are almost always tricky, so why make a case any more difficult than it needs to be? It seems that Ben Franklin would agree that, as for others, for property rights attorneys, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Have a Development Permit in Florida? You May Be Able to Extend It.

As I wrote about in a recent update with my Stearns Weaver colleagues Reggie Bouthillier and Ken Metcalf, two of Governor Scott's latest executive orders present opportunities for the holders of certain types of development permits in Florida. On August 6, 2015, Governor Scott declared an emergency due to severe flooding in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Dixie, and Taylor Counties. On August 28, 2015, Governor Scott declared an emergency across the state due to the impending arrival of Tropical Storm Erika.

Section 252.363, Florida Statutes, provides for extensions in certain circumstances for some development-related permits:

252.363 Tolling and extension of permits and other authorizations.— 
(1)(a) The declaration of a state of emergency by the Governor tolls the period remaining to exercise the rights under a permit or other authorization for the duration of the emergency declaration. Further, the emergency declaration extends the period remaining to exercise the rights under a permit or other authorization for 6 months in addition to the tolled period. This paragraph applies to the following:
1. The expiration of a development order issued by a local government.
2. The expiration of a building permit.
3. The expiration of a permit issued by the Department of Environmental Protection or a water management district pursuant to part IV of chapter 373.
4. The buildout date of a development of regional impact, including any extension of a buildout date that was previously granted pursuant to s. 380.06(19)(c).
(b) Within 90 days after the termination of the emergency declaration, the holder of the permit or other authorization shall notify the issuing authority of the intent to exercise the tolling and extension granted under paragraph (a). The notice must be in writing and identify the specific permit or other authorization qualifying for extension.
(c) If the permit or other authorization for a phased construction project is extended, the commencement and completion dates for any required mitigation are extended such that the mitigation activities occur in the same timeframe relative to the phase as originally permitted.
(d) This subsection does not apply to:
1. A permit or other authorization for a building, improvement, or development located outside the geographic area for which the declaration of a state of emergency applies.
2. A permit or other authorization under any programmatic or regional general permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.
3. The holder of a permit or other authorization who is determined by the authorizing agency to be in significant noncompliance with the conditions of the permit or other authorization through the issuance of a warning letter or notice of violation, the initiation of formal enforcement, or an equivalent action.
4. A permit or other authorization that is subject to a court order specifying an expiration date or buildout date that would be in conflict with the extensions granted in this section.
(2) A permit or other authorization that is extended shall be governed by the laws, administrative rules, and ordinances in effect when the permit was issued, unless any party or the issuing authority demonstrates that operating under those laws, administrative rules, or ordinances will create an immediate threat to the public health or safety.
(3) This section does not restrict a county or municipality from requiring property to be maintained and secured in a safe and sanitary condition in compliance with applicable laws, administrative rules, or ordinances.
Some local governments, like Palm Beach County, have already created forms to help permit holders in exercising their right to an extension. Even where they have, though, permit holders need to pay particular attention to whether one or both extensions apply and whether other statutory procedures provide further benefits. 

In any case, as the Florida Attorney General has explained, the burden is always on the landowner or permit holder to obtain the extension in the proper manner. They should act quickly to exercise their rights to these extensions.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Federal Jurisdiction over Wetlands Significantly Expanded in Florida

I've had a lot of questions and calls lately about the Army Corps of Engineers' and the EPA's "Clean Water Rule." It is otherwise known as the Waters of the United States Rule (WOTUS), and it significantly expands the federal government's regulatory jurisdiction, especially in Florida. The question is this: how far does the federal government's power reach over water bodies and wetlands, especially those that have nothing to do with navigation or interstate commerce?

As most of you know by now, I've joined the Tampa office of Stearns Weaver. My Tallahassee colleague Reggie Bouthillier, our summer clerk William Anderson, and I wrote an in-depth briefing to update Florida landowners and consultants on how this new rule might affect them. At a conference this summer, a well-known environmental scientists quipped that the new rule of thumb in Florida is that when it rains, there are enough puddles to make the entire state subject to federal jurisdiction. He was only half joking.

Here's the summary of our briefing:

On May, 27, 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") and the United States Army Corps of Engineers ("Corps") issued the final "Clean Water Act Rule," aimed at clarifying the jurisdictional definition of "waters of the United States" ("jurisdictional waters") under the Clean Water Act ("CWA"). The new rule attempts to increase regulatory certainty by reconciling past agency practices, science, and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. As a result, Florida landowners and developers will likely need CWA permits where they were not previously necessary. 
The CWA prohibits the discharge of pollutants into jurisdictional waters. Even though this concept is key to the agencies' regulatory jurisdiction, its outer boundaries have been unclear and have been subject to numerous court challenges. While navigable waters have traditionally been viewed as jurisdictional, most other waters (including wetlands) have been subject to case-by-case analysis to determine whether those waters had a "significant nexus" with navigable waters. Under the Clean Water Act Rule, however, many more waters and wetlands will be categorically defined as jurisdictional waters, in some cases even if the water is relatively isolated and wholly intrastate. Consequently, the rule does give more regulatory certainty, but that certainty gives landowners and developers less flexibility and makes challenges to jurisdictional determinations more difficult. 
On August 28, 2015, the Clean Water Act Rule will go into effect and land owners and developers will face increased regulation, translating into additional costs, timing, and permitting requirements for projects. It is unclear whether efforts to delay the rule's implementation will be successful. Legislation blocking implementation of the rule has passed the House and is pending in the Senate, but it would likely face a presidential veto. At least ten federal law suits are challenging the rule, and several seek preliminary injunctions against the rule's enforcement. 
In light of this new rule and the uncertainty surrounding it, landowners and developers need to be vigilant in protecting their rights in the federal permitting process.
Read the full article here. Since this was published, you should know that a federal judge in North Dakota has issued an injunction against the rule's implementation. At this time, the federal agencies are taking the position that the order only applies to implementation in those states involved in that particular lawsuit. Florida is not one of them - so the Corps and EPA have been implementing the new rule since last Friday, August. 28, 2015.