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Thursday, March 21, 2013
Guam Mayor Seizes Neighbor's Land for Driveway
By Robert Thomas @ 11:34 PM :: 3532 Views :: Land Use

Reply Brief In Eminent Domain Pretext Case: If The Government Won't Even Defend The Taking ... It Might Be A Private Condemnation

by Robert Thomas, InverseCondemnation March 22, 2013

Here's the Reply Brief in Ilagan v. Ungacta, No. 12-723 (cert. petition filed Dec. 7, 2012), the case in which the Court is considering whether to review the Guam Supreme Court's opinion applying Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005) to reverse a trial court decision invalidating a taking. 

The reply brief responds to the Brief in Opposition's argument that the taking of the Ilagan property did not violate the Public Use Clause because it was accomplished under the auspices of the Agana Plan:

Most notably, the Opposition does not dispute the evidence showing the private character of the transfer of the Petitioners’ (Ilagans) land to their neighbors, the Ungactas. To be precise, the Opposition does not deny: (1) that the taking of the Ilagans’ land was initiated and funded by the Ungactas; (2) that the Unguctas are politically connected, with Respondent Felix Ungacta serving as Mayor of Agana at the time of the taking; (3) that the taking was designed to give the Ungactas a driveway to their private residence; (4) that the Agana Plan was defunct at the time of taking; (5) that the taking was disconnected in time, space, and process from past Agana Plan condemnations; or (6) that the government has abandoned its defense of the taking, (ironically) leaving the "public use" argument to be made by the private party that benefitted from the taking.

Br. at 1 (footnotes omitted). For a little light eminent domain-related Friday self-entertainment, read the above list in the style of comedian Jeff Foxworthy's "You Might be a Redneck" routine. For example: "If the condemnation of your land was initiated and funded by your neighbors ... you might be the victim of a pretextual taking." And so forth.

[Disclosure: we represent the Owners' Counsel of America, which has joined an amici brief supporting the property owner/petitioner in this case, urging the Court to grant cert.]

The Court requested the respondents file a BIO after they waived their right to do so, which could mean that this case is on the Court's (or the cert clerk's) radar.

The Court's docket report for the case is here if you want to follow along: Reply Brief of Petitioners, Ilagan v. Ungacta, No. 12-723 (Mar. 21, 2013)

  *   *   *   *   *

In Eminent Domain Pretext Case: Redevelopment Plan Established "Order Out Of Chaos"

by Robert Thomas, InverseCondemnation.com March 17, 2013

Here's the Brief in Opposition which responds to the cert petition in Ilagan v. Ungacta, No. 12-723 (cert. petition filed Dec. 7, 2012).

In that case, an Agana, Guam property owner is alleging that a taking of his residential property so that his neighbor (the former mayor of Agana) could have a driveway for his lot, violated the Public Use Clause. Of course, the taking was not justified by private necessity but as part of the "Agana Plan," an economic development plan adopted following World War II to reconfigure irregular lot lines in the city. The Guam trial court invalidated the taking, but the Guam Supreme Court unanimously reversed, holding that under Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), the taking was for a public use.

Disclosure: we represent the Owners' Counsel of America, which has joined an amici brief supporting the property owner/petitioner in this case.

The BIO argues that the taking was accomplished pursuant to the Agana Plan, and therefore served a valid public purpose because it remedied the problem of oddly-shaped lots in Agana:

The Agana Plan was adopted shortly after the devastation of Agana during World War II to promote the economic development of Guam’s capital city and to establish "order out of chaos" by straightening the border lines and uniting fractional lots in order to form geometric, orderly blocks. In holding that the taking in this case was for a public purpose, the Court rejected the trial court’s finding that multiple, contemporaneous takings were required to establish a valid economic development plan, and thus rejected the trial court’s isolated review of the taking at issue separate and apart from the Agana Plan.

....

Petitioners allege the taking of Lot 237-3-2-1 provided no public purpose and was simply a disguised impermissible taking benefitting only the Respondents. Petitioners effectively request that the taking in the matter be reviewed in isolation from the Agana Plan from which it resulted. However, the record reflects that there is no dispute that the Agana Plan was adopted for valid public purposes consistent with the Public Use Clause. Petitioners did not dispute such a fact in the lower courts, and each of the trial court, the Supreme Court of Guam, and the Ninth Circuit Court have found that the Agana Plan was adopted for valid public purposes.
In conclusion, this case raises no issue of takings law of general importance warranting this Court’s review.

BIO at 1-2 (footnotes omitted). In other words, "nothing to see here folks, move along."

The BIO argues that the Agana Plan is for redevelopment and thus serves a public purpose. It points out that indeed, the Plan was validated by the Ninth Circuit many years ago in Government of Guam v. Moylan Motor Co., Inc., 407 F.2d 567 (9th Cir. 1969). It attempts to narrow the issue down to whether Kelo required that the taking of a single parcel be part of "multiple and contemporaneous takings." We thought differently of course, and the amici brief ably argues that this is a case where pretext is at issue, and the Supreme Court should provide the lower courts with standards for what that means.

The Supreme Court's docket report for the case is here,

Brief in Opposition, Ilagan v. Ungacta, No. 12-723 (Mar. 13, 2013)

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