The Public and Wildlife Trust Doctrines and the Untold Story of the Lucas Remand
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge - Paul M. Hebert Law Center; Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge - School of the Coast and Environment
February 9, 2009
Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, Vol. 34, No. 1, 2009
Stetson University College of Law Research Paper No. 2009-33
Government attempts to protect ecosystems on private lands are often thwarted by Fifth Amendment takings claims demanding that “just compensation” be paid to the property owner. In the case of Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a state statute could survive a takings claim if the state could prove on remand that “background principles of property law” applied to the subject property. Scholarly works since Lucas have argued that “background principles” includes the public and wildlife trust doctrines. However, on remand, the state failed to assert either doctrine in defense of the statute. Though authors have focused on this aspect of the case, no author has before, to my knowledge, discussed the oral arguments presented on remand to the South Carolina Supreme Court. These arguments were neither transcribed in court documents, nor detailed in the final court order. Strikingly, during the oral argument the court actually invited the state to assert the public trust doctrine, but the state was unprepared. This invitation by the court lends important support to the argument that the doctrines may be asserted to protect environmental regulations from takings claims under the circumstances presented in Lucas. This article details the history of the two doctrines, discussing the similarities between them and demonstrating their broad application to a greater number of resources than those protected in the seminal cases. The article next analyzes the Lucas remand, focusing on the court’s invitation to the state to assert the public trust doctrine. Finally, the article discusses how the U.S. Supreme Court could have decided the case without remand, by applying the doctrines directly – the nature of the doctrines would have allowed the Court to uphold the state law without violating the Constitution.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 49
Keywords: Public Trust Doctrine, Lucas, Takings, Illinois Central, Geer
Date posted: April 15, 2010 ; Last revised: August 5, 2014
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