Public Trust and Public Necessity Defenses to Taking Liability for Sea-Level Rise Responses on the Gulf Coast
46 Pages Posted: 26 Nov 2010
The states bordering the Gulf of Mexico - Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida - face numerous challenges in coastal management along those shores, one of which is rising sea levels. Given the threats that sea-level rise and associated climate change impacts pose to public health and welfare, increased state and local government action in and regulation of the Gulf coast is virtually inevitable.
However, government action regarding the Gulf coast that limits or otherwise affects private property rights leaves state and local governments vulnerable to claims that those governments have taken private property in violation of the federal Constitution. Such vulnerability, however, is not absolute. As the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, no unconstitutional taking of private property occurs if the property owner’s claimed rights were never part of that owner’s title to begin with. As a result, certain “background principles” of state property law shield governmental action from taking liability, even if that action interferes with or prohibits a landowner’s desired use of the property.
This Article examines two of these “background principles” of state property law - state public trust doctrines and the doctrine of public necessity - to assess their abilities to insulate state and local coastal regulation from landowner claims of regulatory takings in the Gulf of Mexico states. It concludes that state and local governments in Gulf states generally have more tools to protect the coast than are generally acknowledged and that their defenses to coastal takings claims will become increasingly stronger as sea-level rise and coastal deterioration emerge as true emergencies and public health crises.
Keywords: Regulatory Taking, Public Trust, Public Necessity, Sea Level Rise, Lucas, Gulf Of Mexico, Takings Claims, Background Principles
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