Horne v. Department of Agriculture: An Invitation to Reexamine 'Ripeness' Doctrine in Takings Litigation
15 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2013 Last revised: 4 Sep 2013
Date Written: July 8, 2013
In June 2013, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Horne v. Department of Agriculture, arguably the most obscure of the Supreme Court’s trilogy of takings cases in the 2012-13 term. The case arose from a U.S. Department of Agriculture order imposing sanctions on California raisin growers for failing to comply with the requirements of a marketing order issued under the Agriculture Marketing Agreement Act of 1937. Reversing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Supreme Court ruled that the growers presented a “ripe” takings claim and that the appeals court erred in concluding that it lacked “jurisdiction” over the claim. Horne invites a reexamination of the confusing and under-theorized legal doctrine governing the distribution of takings cases among different federal courts and between federal and state courts. The thesis of this article is that the Takings Clause precludes a property owner from presenting a viable legal claim for equitable relief so long as the claimant has the opportunity to pursue a claim for just compensation under the Takings Clause. Thus, the reason a claimant cannot sue to enjoin a taking in federal District Court when there is an opportunity to sue for financial compensation in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is that the claim for equitable relief fails to state a valid legal claim; contrary to the suggestion of the Court in Horne, and that of many lower courts, neither the ripeness doctrine nor subject matter jurisdiction is relevant in this context. A different principle governs whether takings claims seeking just compensation based on local government can go forward in federal or state court, the issue addressed in the landmark Williamson County case. While unfortunate language in that decision suggests that ripeness doctrine governs this choice of forum, the preference for state courts over federal courts in takings cases is best understood as resting on federalism values, including (1) the advantages of leaving land use disputes to state judges with superior local knowledge and (2) the notion that a sovereign state cannot be viewed as effecting a taking until property has been taken and the state courts have addressed a property owner’s claim for compensation under the Takings Clause. If Horne serves as a springboard for rationalizing the Court’s rules on forum selection in takings cases, it will turn out not to be such an unimportant case after all.
Keywords: takings, property right, ripeness
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