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Court hands victory to property owners

In a major victory for private-property owners nationwide, the US Supreme Court has dramatically expanded the ability to receive government compensation when regulations impact the value or use of land.

In an important 6-to-3 ruling on Thursday, the nation's highest court overturned a decision by the Rhode Island Supreme Court that blocked an attempt by the owner of 18 acres of oceanside wetlands in Westerly, R.I., who was trying to sue the state government under the Fifth Amendment's takings clause.

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The clause says that the government shall not take private property for public use without offering just compensation. The decision is expected to have broad ramifications for environmental and other land-use regulations. It marks the most explicit statement yet by the high court that even property owners who purchased land after regulations take effect may file suit for compensation. "A state would be allowed, in effect, to put an expiration date on the takings clause. This ought not be the rule," writes Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority. "Future generations, too, have a right to challenge unreasonable limitations on the use and value of land."

At issue was whether a developer could file suit under the takings clause for marshland he'd been trying to develop since 1959. Rhode Island had argued that since he became legal owner after the regulations took effect, he had fair notice the property's value was diminished. Both a state court and the Rhode Island Supreme Court agreed. Yesterday's decision does not mean he will win compensation. The lost value of his property will be determined by state courts in Rhode Island.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor