Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co.
272 U.S. 365 (1926)

  • Euclid was a suburb of Cleveland. They instituted a zoning ordinance. Ambler sued Euclid on the basis that the zoning ordinance interfered with the value of their properties.
    • Under Euclid’s zoning laws, the heights of buildings to be built on Ambler’s land was limited, thereby reducing the potential value of the land.
    • Ambler argued that the zoning law was a violation of the 14th Amendment.
      • Basically, Ambler argued that the zoning law deprived them of liberty and property without due process.
    • Ambler argued that even if the general concept of zoning was legal, it still constituted a taking under the 5th Amendment, and Euclid would have to compensate Ambler for the loss.
    • Euclid argued that zoning is a form of nuisance control and therefore a reasonable police power measure.
  • The Trial Court found for Ambler. Euclid appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that the zoning ordinance did in fact constitute a taking by Euclid of Ambler’s property, and was therefore unconstitutional under the 5th Amendment.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed, and found the zoning law to be constitutional.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the zoning ordinance was a reasonable extension of the Euclid’s police power.
      • The Court noted that while zoning laws were constitutional in general, there could be specific applications or provisions of zoning laws which could be unconstitutional.
    • The Court found that Ambler had failed to prove that the land would lose value. Ambler was only speculating, which is not a valid basis for a claim of takings.
      • Just because Ambler couldn’t build a tall building, that didn’t mean they still couldn’t make an expensive building.
    • The Court found that in order for a jurisdiction to take land without violating due process, the taking must meet two tests:
      • There must be a legitimate end goal, such as the increase of the general welfare or public health.
        • Examples would be – pollution control, firefighting, population density control, and ensuring that residential neighborhoods will not disappear because the land is more valuable as industrial space.
      • It also must use means that are not capricious or irrational.
  • The 5th Amendment says that the government cannot take someone’s property without compensating the owner. So why is it ok for the government to partially reduce the value of property by placing zoning restrictions on it?
    • See Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon (260 U.S. 393 (1922)).
    • Overall, if you look at the case law, zoning regulations almost never trigger the need for compensation as a taking.
  • Rich conservatives loved this decision, even though they are generally against government regulation. In this case though, it ensured the value of their expensive property because they could now use zoning laws to keep ‘undesirables’ and poor people away from their land.