When analyzing potential liability for a regulatory takings claim, most land use and eminent domain attorneys immediately look to the three-prong test set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City (1978) 438 U.S. 104.  Those three factors include:

  • the economic impact of the regulation;
  • the extent to which the regulation has interfered with distinct investment-backed expectations; and
  • the character of the government’s regulation.

Unfortunately, it’s much easier said than done.  Practitioners and courts alike have struggled over the years in (1) deciding how to measure a regulation’s economic impact and (2) determining whether the regulation has interfered with an owner’s "distinct investment-backed expectations."  This is especially true given the Supreme Court’s direction that each case deserves an independent, "ad hoc" factual inquiry.

William Wade, an expert in financial economics, has prepared an excellent article addressing what has resulted from this perplexity:  unpredictability in evaluating the merits of regulatory takings claims.  Mr. Wade’s article, "A few thoughts about origins of confusion subsequent to Penn Central," suggests this stems from "too much talk and not enough math," as the calculations are straight-forward for financial experts, yet the waters are muddied through the courts’ reluctance to apply economics and analyze income losses as opposed to property value depreciation.

For example, Mr. Wade suggests that while an appraisal may accurately measure a change in a property’s value, it does not accurately measure economic losses to the owner of an income-producing property.  For purposes of analyzing a temporary regulatory taking, Mr. Wade urges us not to consider the property’s percentage decline in value, but instead the property owner’s change in income.  This is how damages are calculated in tort cases, and Mr. Wade advocates that damages in regulatory takings cases should be no different.

Mr. Wade sums up his article with the conclusion that "[u]ntil the Supreme Court puts an end to faulty understanding of economics within the Penn Central test, . . . widespread confusion of takings jurisprudence will persist."  

The recent Guggenheim Ninth Circuit en banc decision (pet. denied May 16, 2011) turns out be be consistent with standard economics expressed by the Court in Loveladies Harbor, Inc. v. U.S. (Fed. Cir. 1994) 28 F.3d 1171, 1177: 

[T]he owner who bought with knowledge of [a particular] restraint could be said . . . to have assumed the risk of any economic loss.  In economic terms, . . . the market had already discounted for the restraint, so that a purchaser could not show a loss in his investment attribu[table] to [the regulatory action]." 

While more recent Federal Circuit cases have confounded basic economics, Loveladies made sense at the time and rings true in Guggenheim.  Take a look at Mr. Wade’s article for yourself.