The Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Property Owners

EDIT: 2012-03-22: 12:33: Zerg539 pointed out what I entirely missed, this ruling simply allows Sacketts to take this case to court. Ignore what I said below, I now longer thing this ruling is good enough. If something the government does appears to be good, it’s probably not. Also, I should read things a bit closer from time to time.

The Supreme Court, the same court that rules property can be seized via eminent domain when influential property owners desired it, has actually made a ruling in favor of land owners. Sackett v. EPA started when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told Mike Sackett that he couldn’t develop the property he purchased because it was a wetland, unless of course he paid the EPA a $250,000 extortion fee for a permit who would then decide whether or not the land could be developed (even when you pay the extortion fee you have no guarantee). The Supreme Court ruled that Sackett could develop his property:

The position taken in this case by the Federal Government—a position that the Court now squarely rejects—would have put the property rights of ordinary Americans entirely at the mercy of Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) employees.

The reach of the Clean Water Act is notoriously unclear. Any piece of land that is wet at least part of the year is in danger of being classified by EPA employees as wetlands covered by the Act, and according to the Federal Government, if property owners begin to construct a home on a lot that the agency thinks possesses the requisite wetness, the property owners are at the agency’s mercy. The EPA may issue a compliance order demanding that the owners cease construction, engage in expensive remedial measures, and abandon any use of the property. If the owners do not do the EPA’s bidding, they may be fined up to $75,000 per day ($37,500 for violating the Act and another $37,500 for violating the compliance order). And if the owners want their day in court to show that their lot does not include covered wetlands, well, as a practical matter, that is just too bad. Until the EPA sues them, they are blocked from access to the courts, and the EPA may wait as long as it wants before deciding to sue. By that time, the potential fines may easily have reached the millions. In a nation that values due process, not to mention private property, such treatment is unthinkable.

The complete ruling can be found here [PDF]. It’s good to see justice appearing once in a while, although it’s sad that Sackett had to suffer the expensive in time and money just so he could build a damned house on his property.

5 thoughts on “The Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Property Owners”

  1. Well to clarify, this ruling only grants the Sacketts the ability to take the case to court. And if past cases prove to be an example the EPA will ignore any ruling that establishes the Sacketts have broken no laws.

    1. Damn it! Seriously? I should have read that a bit closer. I just went from happy to not happy again.

  2. Well it is still a step albeit a much smaller one in the right direction in that all property owners have the right to challenge the EPA on the fine, though I believe the court should have issued judgement on the case itself. Though I suspect there is some obscure legalese preventing the issuance of a verdict of that nature.

    1. The Supreme Court is usually very specific in its rulings, avoiding direct rulings on things outside of the specific topic at hand (they do often give very broad rulings that have wider implications of course). For example they were careful in Heller vs. DC and McDonald vs. Chicago to state that they weren’t ruling against all forms of gun control, just the very specific forms being argued against at the trail.

      Therefore I’m not surprised they didn’t make a ruling beyond the simple statement that a person can challenge the EPA (what I can’t fathom is how that was even in question, everybody should have the right to seek redress for grievances with the state).

  3. I believe it stems from a ninth circuit decision that decides only the EPA gets to determine if the issue ever goes to a trial.

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