PLF asks Supreme Court to rescue landowners from procedural purgatory

Appeal in Arrigoni Enterprises argues for reversal of controversial Williamson County precedent that denies property owners full and equal access to federal courts

TOWN OF DURHAM, CONN. – November 16, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — Representing a Durham property owner barred from developing his land, Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider a controversial precedent that denies landowners unobstructed access to federal court to defend their constitutional rights.

PLF is seeking High Court review in Arrigoni Enterprises LLC v. Town of Durham. Donor-supported PLF is the leading watchdog for property rights. PLF represents Tom Arrigoni and his business, Arrigoni Enterprises, without charge, as with all PLF clients.

PLF’s petition for certiorari urges the justices to take the Arrigoni Enterprises case for the purpose of overruling Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank. That 1985 Supreme Court precedent undermines constitutional property rights by requiring landowners to exhaust state court litigation before they may sue in federal court to challenge oppressive land use regulations.

Even an owner who initially files in state court can be defeated by a Kafkaesque gimmick: Government defendants have been known to transfer, or “remove”, such cases to federal court — and then ask for dismissal because the case needed to be tried in state court!

The Williamson County precedent treats property rights as second-class freedoms
“Tom Arrigoni got swept up in this bizarre and unfair procedural maze after the Town of Durham denied permits for his business to build a few light industrial buildings on its land,” as PLF Principal Attorney J. David Breemer recounts at the PLF Liberty Blog. The denial came even though similar projects had been permitted on nearby properties. He responded by suing in state court, charging the Town with acting arbitrarily and imposing an unconstitutional taking.

After the state court ruled against him, declining to address the takings allegation — and after the Town subsequently denied an exemption from restrictions against the rock processing that would be needed to develop his property — Arrigoni sued in federal court.

The federal district court held that Arrigoni should have done more to get state courts to address and deny his takings claim. On appeal to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Arrigoni argued that the permit denials were obviously final, so federal courts should be able to decide the takings question without further state court proceedings. But the Second Circuit refused to do so.

“As Tom Arrigoni’s frustrating saga shows, the Williamson County state exhaustion rule saddles property owners with an onerous burden that undermines their constitutional rights,” said Breemer. “For most kinds of government abuses against constitutional rights, victims may go straight to federal court for protection and redress. But Williamson County denies that right to property owners. Landowners who have suffered an unconstitutional taking are detoured to state court, and forced, often, into a procedural purgatory. We are asking the Supreme Court to reverse this pernicious precedent that treats constitutional property rights as second-class freedoms. It is time to stop denying landowners access to justice in federal court.”

Read more information on Arrigoni Enterprises LLC v. Town of Durham at the PLF Liberty Blog. Additionally, the petition for certiorari is available at PLF’s website.

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is the leading watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, and free enterprise, in courts nationwide. PLF represents all clients free of charge.

Contact: J. David Breemer
Principal Attorney
Pacific Legal Foundation

(916) 419-7111

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