Property Rights


According to the framers of the U.S. Constitution, there is no more fundamental right than the right to own and enjoy private property - the "wellspring" from which come the basket of liberty interests we share as Americans.  As a result, half the litigation and policy matters in which Southeastern Legal Foundation has engaged since 1976 have been on this critical issue.

Consider a few highlights from our history - and watch for developments on this site as Southeastern Legal Foundation continues to help establish the strongest possible protections for the right to full use and enjoyment of private property against government overregulation or "takings."

Consider some of our efforts:

(2010-11) SLF continues to represent a group of Florida beachfront property owners in a nationally significant federal constitutional challenge to protect Fifth Amendment property rights and Equal Protection and Due Process rights.  SLF continues its post-appeal challenge against the City of McDonough, Georgia over its illegal imposition of impact development fees.

(2009) Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, et al.  SLF submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court urging the court to overturn a Florida Supreme Court decision which approved so-called “beach renourishment” as constitutional, despite well-founded case law supporting the right to full use and enjoyment of private property.  Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, et al.  At issue are ongoing attempts by local Florida governments to achieve unrestricted public use of private beach property without regard to constitutional due process and equal protection. 

(2008) Southeastern Legal Foundation and the Grassroots Institute of Hawaii filed a friend of the court brief to the United States Supreme Court urging the high court to find unconstitutional the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ (OHA) decades-long practice of distributing hundreds of millions of public dollars to native Hawaiian beneficiaries – to the exclusion of all other Hawaiians.  As the U.S. Supreme Court has held repeatedly, property rights belong to all people, not on the basis of race, color, or gender.

(2006) SLF takes lead in successful effort to roll back eminent domain private property seizures by government for so-called "economic development" purposes, assisting Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue in drafting anti-Kelo laws.  The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has solicited blueprint legislation for use throughout the nation to address the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Kelo v. New London, CT.  SLF is also preparing constitutional amendment and statutory language and research at the request of the GA Speaker of the House and GA Senate leadership on the same issue, as well as member of the South Carolina legislature.  SLF continues to defend private property owners in Destin, Florida and Stockbridge, Georgia in potentially precedent-setting cases against unconstitutional government land grabs.

City of Destin, Florida (2000-2005) SLF represented a group of beachfront propert owners when the City made plans to declare a significant portion of beachfront land, regardless of its present owner, as "public" land.  This move would have clearly resulted in a governmental "taking" of private property as land values would have plummeted without just compensation.  In what SLF knew to be a leading beachfront property case likely to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, the City of Destin backed down.

Dail v. York County (1998-99).  At issue is the right of a widow to harvest timber on a portion of her land in Virginia.  State law allows the modest timber plan, but local ordinances and bureaucratic red tape have made her plan impossible.  SLF filed suit to protect her right to use her property in a responsible way, the proceeds of such timber harvest to pay the property taxes and enable her to pass down the land to her children.

Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council (1992).  In the landmark United States Supreme Court decision, SLF argued and the Court agreed that, because of a change in South Carolina’s coastal protection law prohibiting development of their beachfront property, the Lucases suffered a “taking” of their property and were entitled to full compensation.

Property owner David Lucas said, “The amicus curiae brief filed on my behalf had a definite positive impact on our case.  In fact, my attorneys are convinced that the use of this brief was instrumental in winning the landmark property rights victory of Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council.”

Suitum v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (1996-1998).  In a stunning victory, the United States Supreme Court announced a unanimous decision in this pivotal property right case joined by SLF.  SLF filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court arguing against a policy advanced by the TRPA in California and Nevada which denies all development right to an owner of subdivision property.  The TRPA policy would allow the owner to attempt to sell “transferable development rights” equal to a small portion of value of her land to another owner – only if such use comports with TRPA policy.  This was an outright attempt to circumvent the ruling in the Lucas case (above) which held that regulation of private property forbidding all development of such land is a “taking”, entitling the owner to full compensation under the U.S. Constitution, in an important victory for property owners across the nation.

Dolan v. City of Tigard, Oregon (1994).  The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of a business owner who was prevented from expanding her business by government demands to dedicate a portion of her property to the city.  SLF’s brief successfully argued that the city’s action was a “taking” of private property without just compensation.

Tennessee Environmental Council v. Annie Laurie James (1992).  SLF successfully represented a retied schoolteacher and fourth-generation farm owner in West Tennessee who was sued by an environmental group for clearing out a drainage ditch on her property.  After SLF convinced the EPA to drop its case against our client, she was dismissed for the lawsuit.

“If it had not been for SLF, we could not have afforded to defend the case,” said Mrs. James.  “Now we can farm our land instead of having to provide a place for someone else to watch birds and fish.”

Beggerly v. U.S.A. (1996).  SLF filed an amicus brief supporting a landowner in Mississippi whose property was “taken” by the federal government without adequate compensation. 

Teahard v. Lee County, Florida (1993-1995).  SLF filed a brief in support of a federal court’s award of monetary damages to a property owner for a taking of his property through wetland regulation.

Betty West (1993).  SLF helped a Georgia property owner successfully resist efforts by the Sate DOT to condemn the middle of her farm for wetland mitigation.

United States v. South Florida Water Management District (1990-1991).  In 1990, SLF intervened on behalf of several Florida agricultural associations and family farms in litigation surrounding the Central and South Florida Flood Control Projects.

Glisson v. Alachua County, Florida (1986-1991).  SLF represented a group of Florida property owners who challenged local environmental and land use regulations as a violation of their property rights.  SLF helped Cross Creek residents resist government from creating a “public use” without paying for it.  While the case was pending, the County made significant improvements in the regulations.

North Carolina Wildlife Federation v. Bergland (1980).  Environmentalists, forest product interest and sportsmen challenged governmental abuse of power when the Forest Service withdrew 31,000 acres of land from harvesting, mining and wildlife and plant management.  SLF argued that unauthorized wilderness management invaded their interest in the land.

Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill (1978).  SLF intervened when the EPA ordered the TVA’a Tellico Dam Project stopped because of its potential threat to the snail darter.  SLF argued that the Endangered Species Act did not compel such drastic measures for projects and property affected by the snail darter.