Inverse condemnation—what’s that?

Governments (federal, state and local) pass laws and regulations that impact the use of private property. Sometimes those government regulations are so restrictive that a private property owner has a right to compensation for the “taking” of his or her property.

Recently, a landowner with property adjacent to the state penitentiary in Walla Walla, claimed that the state’s operation of an on-site firing range made their property unmarketable. They sought $3.7 million in compensation.

The Court set out the elements of inverse condemnation. They are: (1) a taking, (2) of private property; (3) for public use; (4) without just compensation; (5) by a governmental entity without a formal eminent domain proceeding.

Surely the operation of a live firing range would impact a neighboring landowner’s property?

Well, while the court expressed that that might indeed be true, in this case the landowner’s claim was denied.

You see, the live firing range had been in operation since 1886. The landowner, in other words, had purchased the land while the penitentiary and firing range were already in existence. The landowner’s gripe was most likely triggered when the property was rezoned from agricultural to residential. Realizing that they would not benefit from this rezone because of the presence of the firing range/penitentiary, they sought compensation.

There are hints in the case that the landowner might have had a claim had the intensity of the government’s use of the firing range had increased during their ownership, but that was not established.

Tom v. State, 164 Wn.App. 609 (2011)

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