Posted by: Patricia Salkin | February 8, 2008

E.D. Missouri Finds Federal Takings Claim Precluded by State Claim

Plaintiffs with takings claims are often frustrated with the ripeness requirements set forth in Williamson County Regional Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson County, 473 U.S. 172 (1985) which states that federal claims of taking without just compensation are not ripe until the plaintiff exhausts available state remedies for compensation.  Problems often arise for plaintiffs when they follow this rule, and then, based on the Constitution and 28 U.S. C. sec. 1738, which require the federal courts to give full faith and credit to the decisions of the state courts, they find that they are unsuccessful in future efforts to get the federal courts to hear their takings claims because they have already been fully litigated in the state courts.  

Such was the situation in a recent case decided by the Eastern District of Missouri where the plaintiff brought two actions against the County of St. Louis alleging an unconstitutional taking under the Fifth Amendment and alleging a deprivation of substantive due process after the County rezoned her property from M-1 Industrial to R-3 Residential, making the property no longer suitable for the intended business use contemplated when she purchased the land. Before litigating the present federal claim, the plaintiff brought an action in state court alleging a taking under the federal and state constitutions, as well as the due process claim.  The Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the federal takings claim in the state court, proceeding only on the state takings claim. In all likelihood, the plaintiff did this in an effort to preserve the federal claim for federal court so that the federal court would not find that the issue had already been litigated. After the Missouri Supreme Court transferred the case back to the Court of Appeals who reinstated their decision that no taking had occurred, the plaintiff brought the current case in federal court, believing she had now exhausted her state compensation remedies.   

The Eastern District of Missouri, in finding that the plaintiff was not entitled to bring her federal claim, explained that, “This case presents a conflict between tenets of federal law – one, the notion that plaintiffs asserting federal causes of action should generally be afforded a federal forum in which to litigate, and the other the full faith and credit principle embodied in the Constitution and 28 U.S.C. 1738.” Although the Plaintiff argued that since her federal claim could only become ripe at the conclusion of her state case, and that to disallow her to bring it now because the state court reviewed her state takings claim would prevent her from ever vindicating here federal Fifth Amendment rights, the Court said that like the situation in San Remo Hotel v. City and County of San Francisco, 545 U.S. 323 (2005), although the state court decided a question of state law, the court’s analysis overlapped with federal Fifth Amendment jurisprudence. Similar to the situation in San Remo, here the Missouri Court relied extensively on Penn Central Transp. Co. v. New York City, 438 U.S. 104 (1978), and “interpreted the relevant substantive state takings law coextensively with federal law.”  The Court concluded that if it were to hear the Plaintiff’s federal claim, it would use the very same standard that the Missouri State Court applied, and that therefore it was precluded from doing so under the full faith and credit clause. The federal Court further noted that the Plaintiff could have asserted her federal claim in the earlier State court suit, but since she chose to withdraw that claim, “her voluntary dismissal…does not entitle her to litigate the same issues for a second time, particularly since the Missouri court decided her state law claim by applying federal standards.”  Lastly, the Court viewed this as an effort to bring in federal court , what amounts to an appeal of a state court ruling, and this type of action is precluded under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine (the doctrine bars “cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments…and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.”).  

Reagan v County of St. Louis, 2008 WL 250349 (E.D. Mo. 1/29/2008).   

The opinion can also be accessed at: http://www.courts.mo.gov/courts/pubopinions.nsf/ccd96539c3fb13ce8625661f004bc7da/6f54139575eaeedc8625719b0063250e?OpenDocument&Highlight=0,Reagan


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