State court rules governments must pay ‘just compensation’ when it’s due

By Bob Unruh

A state court has ruled that government entities must pay “just compensation” to citizens when it is due.

The fight has come up in a number of cases across the nation in recent years, several times because homes have been destroyed by police actions and the owners want compensation.

Another was when authorities built a dam that caused repeated floods on – and damage to – several agricultural businesses.

The newest is a series of problems created by the actions of the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans.

The state Supreme Court has ruled that such judgments must be paid.

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According to the Institute for Justice, “From 2013 to 2016, several landowners in New Orleans had their property either damaged or their ability to use their home and church interfered with while the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans worked on a flood control project called the Southeast Louisiana Urban Drainage Project.”

The legal team said, “Following the damage to their properties, the neighbors sued the SWB for the damage. The property owners won an inverse condemnation claim, and the court awarded them $998,872 in cumulative damages and $517,231 in attorney’s fees. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal of Louisiana upheld that ruling.”

The board, however, refused to pay.

“The Constitution’s requirements are just that – requirements, not suggestions,” said IJ Deputy Litigation Director Robert McNamara. “The government’s argument that it could withhold payment when it damages someone’s property was always absurd, and property owners across Louisiana should sleep a little better now that the Louisiana Supreme Court has said so.”

The court ruling said governments that take private property must actually pay for what they take, rejecting a local sewerage board’s argument that it had fulfilled its constitutional duty to pay “just compensation” by giving property owners what amounted to an unenforceable IOU.

“Until Friday, Louisiana government agencies took the position that the Constitution required them to pay just compensation when they took property but also didn’t require them to actually pay anything on the judgments courts entered ordering them to pay for the property they took,” said IJ lawyer Brian Morris. “This ruling closes one of the biggest loopholes in American property rights, and it ensures that ‘compensation’ means actual payment, not meaningless IOUs.”

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