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Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council (1992)

How much should government be able to regulate property before it becomes a “taking” requiring just compensation?

  • Students trace the historical background of government power to regulate private property for public use.
  • Students analyze modern examples of government regulation and/or taking of private property for public use.

  1. Magna Carta Excerpts (1215)
  2. Federal Farmer, December 25, 1787
  3. The Fifth Amendment (1791)
  4. Pennsylvania Coal v. Mahon (1922), Majority Opinion
  5. U.S. v. Causby (1946), Majority Opinion
  6. Penn Central Transp. Co. v. New York (1978), Majority Opinion
  7. Penn Central Transp. Co. v. New York (1978), Dissenting Opinion
  8. Beachfront Management Act, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Summary (1988)
  9. Lucas v. So. Carolina Coastal Council (1992), Majority Opinion
  10. Lucas v. So. Carolina Coastal Council (1992), Dissenting Opinion
  11. Lucas’s Property (1994)
  12. The Site of Lucas’s Former Property (2000)

Read the Case Background and Key Question. Then analyze the Documents provided. Finally, answer the Key Question in a well-organized essay that incorporates your interpretations of the Documents as well as your own knowledge of history.

David Lucas bought some beachfront property in South Carolina in 1986, and planned to build two homes on the land. Two years later, the South Carolina legislature banned new construction on the land Lucas had purchased, in an effort to combat beach erosion and other environmental concerns.

Lucas filed suit and his case eventually went to the Supreme Court. He argued that the state should pay him just compensation for depriving him of all economic use of his land. South Carolina countered that the ban on construction was designed to prevent public harm due to frequent flooding, and Lucas was owed nothing. Lucas asked the Supreme Court to rule that, since the South Carolina government had taken his land, he should be compensated for it.

Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council (1992) illustrates the concept of a “regulatory taking,” and the principles the Supreme Court applies in such cases. The government had plausible and legitimate reasons for regulating coastlines, which are necessarily a limited and valuable resource in this country. At the same time, the government regulation had potentially severe effects on the rights and expectations of the citizens who owned and purchased private properties along ocean coastlines.