Nollan v. California Costal Commission
483 U.S. 825 (1987)

  • The Nollans leased a piece of beachfront property with a shabby bungalow on it. They sub-leased the bungalow to vacationers. Eventually they exercised their option to buy the property. They decided to demolish the bungalow and replace it with something nicer.
    • The Nollans’ property extended to the high tide mark, which meant that during low tide, the public could cross the beach, but at high tide, they’d have to walk across Nollan’s beach or get wet feet.
  • The California Costal Commission, which gave out building permits, granted a permit on the condition that an easement was created to allow the public to cross the Nollans’ property.
    • This form of regulatory blackmail is called an exaction.
  • Nollan filed a petition with the County Court to invalidate the easement condition. The Court remanded the issue to the Commission for a hearing.
    • Nollan argued that the new building would have no impact on public access to the beach, so it was an invalid taking.
  • At a hearing, the Commission reaffirmed the requirement for an easement. Nollan appealed.
  • The Trial Court ruled in favor of Nollan, the Commission appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. Nollan appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that the easement was not a taking.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court noted that if the Commission had simply required the Nollans to grant them an easement, rather than conditioning the permit on the creation of the easement, then it would undoubtedly have been a per se taking, and unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment without compensation.
      • However, a land-use regulation is not a taking when it substantially advances a legitimate State interest.
    • The Court found that requiring an exaction to get a permit is constitutional, but only if there is an “essential nexus” between the proposed development and a legitimate State interest.
      • Basically, the exaction has to be related to the proposed development. For example, if you want to build a house that blocks a view of the beach, they could force an easement to create a viewing area on your property in order to make up for the lack of view.
        • The consideration the city is asking for has to be a replacement for what the landowner is taking away.
        • Exactly how closely the two must be related was left up in the air. The later case of Dolan v. City of Tigard (512 U.S. 374 (1994)) provided some guidance on what exactly constitutes an “essential nexus.”
      • However, when the exaction is for something that has nothing to do with the proposed development, then that would be unconstitutional.
      • The Nollans’ new house would block no more beach access than the bungalow did. Therefore it was an unconstitutional taking to require an easement for beach access to grant the permit.
        • If the Nollans were building a house on an unimproved lot that had been used for beach access, then it would be ok to require an easement to ensure continued beach access.
  • In a dissent, it was argued that the Commission could have simply told Nolan he couldn’t build his house at all because it would block the view, that would be perfectly legal. However, when they offer a deal to Nollan that he can’t build his house unless he gives an easement, that was not legal. Does that make sense?
    • How would it be a taking to give a landowner more options than you legally could do?
    • If the Commission had asked Nollan to pay a donation into some city improvement fund, that would also be perfectly legal since it wouldn’t put any restrictions on Nollan’s property.