Search Supreme Court Cases


U.S. Supreme Court

Williamson Cty. Planning v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172 (1985)

Williamson County Regional Planning Commission

v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City

No. 84-4

Argued February 19, 1985

Decided June 28, 1985

473 U.S. 172


As required under Tennessee law, in 1973 respondent's predecessor in interest, a land developer, obtained petitioner Planning Commission's approval of a preliminary plat for development of a tract. The tract was to be developed in accord with the requirements of a county zoning ordinance for "cluster" development of residential areas and the Commission's implementing regulations. In 1977, the county zoning ordinance was changed so as to reduce the allowable density of dwelling units, but the Commission continued to apply the 1973 ordinance and regulations to the developer's tract. In 1979, however, the Commission decided that further development of the tract should be governed by the ordinance and regulations then in effect. The Commission thereafter disapproved plats proposing further development of the remainder of the tract on various grounds, including failure to comply with current density requirements. Respondent filed suit against the Commission and its members and staff (also petitioners) in Federal District Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the Commission had taken its property without just compensation by refusing to approve the proposed development. The jury found that respondent had been denied the "economically viable" use of its property in violation of the Just Compensation Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and awarded damages for the temporary taking of respondent's property. The District Court entered an injunction requiring the Commission to apply the 1973 ordinance and regulations to the project, but granted judgment notwithstanding the jury's verdict for the Commission on the taking claim, concluding that the temporary deprivation of economic benefit from respondent's property, as a matter of law, could not constitute a taking. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that application of government regulations affecting an owner's use of property may constitute a taking, and that the evidence supported the jury's finding that the property had no economically feasible use during the time between the Commission's refusal to approve the plat and the jury's verdict.


1. Even assuming, arguendo, that government regulation may effect a taking for which the Fifth Amendment requires just compensation,

Page 473 U. S. 173

and assuming further that the Fifth Amendment requires the payment of money damages to compensate for such a taking, the jury verdict in this case cannot be upheld because respondent's claim is premature. Respondent has not yet obtained a final decision regarding the application of the ordinance and regulations to its property, nor utilized the procedures Tennessee provides for obtaining just compensation, and its claim therefore is not ripe. Pp. 473 U. S. 186-197.

(a) Although respondent's plan for developing its property was rejected, it did not then seek variances that would have allowed it to develop the property according to its proposed plat. Cf. Hodel v. Virginia Surface Mining & Reclamation Assn., Inc., 452 U. S. 264. The record does not support respondent's claim that the Commission's denial of approval for respondent's plat was equivalent to a denial of variances. Thus, respondent has not yet obtained a final decision regarding how it will be allowed to develop its property. Respondent's contention that it should not be required to seek variances because its suit is predicated upon 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is without merit. While there is no requirement that a plaintiff exhaust administrative remedies before bringing a § 1983 action, the question whether administrative remedies must be exhausted is conceptually distinct from the question whether an administrative action must be final before it is judicially reviewable. Pp. 473 U. S. 186-194.

(b) The Fifth Amendment does not require that just compensation be paid in advance of, or contemporaneously with, the taking. If a State provides an adequate procedure for seeking just compensation, the property owner cannot claim a violation of the Just Compensation Clause until it has used the procedure and been denied just compensation. Under Tennessee law, a property owner may bring an inverse condemnation action to obtain just compensation for an alleged taking of property under certain circumstances. Respondent has not shown that the inverse condemnation procedure is unavailable or inadequate, and until it has utilized that procedure, its taking claim is premature. Pp. 473 U. S. 194-197.

2. Respondent's claim also is premature if viewed under the theory that government regulation that goes so far that it has the same effect as a physical taking, must be viewed not as a Fifth Amendment "taking," but as an invalid exercise of the police power, violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Resolution of the due process question depends, in significant part, upon an analysis of the effect the Commission's application of the ordinance and regulations had on the value of respondent's property and investment-backed profit expectations. That effect cannot be measured until a final decision is made as to how the regulations will be applied to respondent's property. No such decision had been made at the time respondent filed its § 1983 action,

Page 473 U. S. 174

because respondent failed to apply for variances from the regulations. Pp. 473 U. S. 197-200.

729 F.2d 402, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, MARSHALL, REHNQUIST and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 473 U. S. 201. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 473 U. S. 202. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 473 U. S. 200. POWELL, J., took no part in the decision of the case.

Page 473 U. S. 175

Powered by Justia US Supreme Court Center: WILLIAMSON CTY. PLANNING V. HAMILTON BANK, 473 U. S. 172 (1985)

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.