The Rebirth of Federal Takings Review? The Courts' 'Prudential' Answer to Williamson County's Flawed State Litigation Ripeness Requirement
30 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2013 Last revised: 8 Aug 2023
Date Written: October 23, 2013
This article addresses recent developments in the law of takings arising from the courts’ application of the rule, articulated in Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 185 (1985), that a property owner must sue for damages in state court to ripen a Fifth Amendment takings claim. The article reviews the confusion and inequity caused by this “state litigation” ripeness rule, and the Supreme Court’s and lower federal courts’ recent attempts to weaken the rule, so as to allow some takings claimants to litigate in federal court. Williamson County’s state litigation ripeness doctrine requires property owners to litigate for just compensation in state court before they can file a federal takings claim in federal court. But in practice, this rule interacts with other jurisdictional principles, such as federal claim and issue preclusion, in a manner that bars property owners from raising state-court ripened takings claims in federal court. As a result, plaintiffs must file their Fifth Amendment takings claims in state court. Yet, this opens the door for defendants to leverage removal principles and Williamson County to entirely deprive a takings plaintiff of any judicial forum for their case. If a defendant removes a state court takings case to federal court, it prevents the plaintiff from litigating in state court - the only available forum under Williamson County - and brings the removed claim to the federal forum in an unripe state; i.e., prior to full exhaustion of state court litigation. Federal courts often dismiss such removed takings cases, leaving the plaintiff without access to the courts for their Fifth Amendment takings claim. The article explains that these problems arise from a jurisdictional understanding of the state litigation rule and that the Supreme Court has abandoned this view. The Court has transformed the state litigation rule from a strict jurisdictional rule into a discretionary "prudential" ripeness concept. The article highlights how federal courts are using the new, "prudential" conception of Williamson County to decline to require state litigation for takings ripeness and defends this approach.
It concludes that the courts' application of Williamson County as a discretionary, prudential ripeness doctrine provides them with a basis to spare takings plaintiffs from the worst injustices of the state litigation rule until the Supreme Court finally puts this rule where it belongs: in the waste pile of failed constitutional doctrines.
Keywords: Takings, Williamson County, Ripeness, State Litigation, Prudential
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