Environmental Law: Nollan vs. CCC

Abstract of:
483 U.S. 825, 97 L. Ed.2d 677
James Patrick Nollan, et
ux., Appellant
California Coastal

Case Definition:

The case is Nollan versus the California Coastal Commission. The
Nollans were the appellates against a decision made by the California Coastal
Commission (CCC).
The Nollans had been leasing a property on the California coast with
which they had an option to buy. The property lies directly at the foot of the
Pacific Ocean and is a prime piece of real estate on the California Coast. The
property had been used by the Nollans to rent out during the summer months to
vacationers. At the end of the Nollans' lease they took the option to purchase
the land and began preparing for the terms of purchase by the previous land
owner. Among those terms was the demolishing of the small deteriorating
bungalow that the Nollans had been leasing. The Nollans had planned to expand
the structure from the small bungalow that it was to a three bedroom house more
complimentary to the surrounding homes and their needs. In order to begin
destruction of the property and begin rebuilding the site the Nollans had to
secure a permit from the California Coastal Commission. Upon submitting the
permit application, the CCC found that the permit should be granted on the
condition that the Nollans provide public access to the beach and to the local
county park, which lay adjacent to the property. This provision called for the
Nollans to use a portion of their land to be used as a public walkway to the
beach and park. The Nollans protested to the condition, but the CCC overruled
the objection and granted the permit with the condition intact.

Case Decision:

The Nollans filed a petition to the Ventura County Superior Court asking
that the condition to supply easement be removed from their permit. The
Nollans' argument was that there was not enough evidence to support the
developments limiting of public access to the beach. The argument was agreed
upon by the court and the case was remanded to the California Coastal Commission
for a full evidentiary hearing on the issue of public access to the beach.
The CCC held a public hearing which led to further factual findings
which reaffirmed the need for the condition. The CCC's argument was that the
building of the new structure would limit view of the ocean, and therefore limit
access to the public who had full rights to use the beach. To compensate for
the limitations on the public the Nollans would have to provide access to the
beach from their property. The CCC also noted that all of the other
developments on the same tract of land had been conditioned similarly in having
to provide public access to the ocean.
The Nollans filed a supplemental petition for a writ of administrative
mandamus (a writ that would order a public official or body to comply with a
specified duty issued by a superior court). The Nollans argument was that the
permit condition violated the Takings Clause in the V Amendment, and also in the
XIV Amendment of the Constitution.
The court agreed that the administrative record did not provide for in
showing the existence of adverse impact on the publics' access to the ocean.
The court granted the writ of mandamus, and directed that the public access
condition be removed from the permit.
The CCC appealed the case in the California Court of Appeal and won the
decision. The Court of Appeal found an error in the Supreme Courts
interpretation of the Coastal Act which mandates public access to any category
of developments on the coast. The Court of Appeal also found that the Takings
claim was unsubstantiated by the Nollans. The permit condition did take from
the value of the land, but did not restrict them of reasonable use of their
The Nollans then appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The
argument made by the Nollans continued to revolve around the Takings Clause in
the V Amendment. The Supreme Court found that the requirement of the permit
only put a restriction on the use of the property and not a “taking” of the
property. The Supreme Court also held the California State Constitution to have
standing, and upheld the ruling made by the Court of Appeals.

Reasoning for Decision:

I believe that the reason the Supreme Court decided as it did was that
its interpretation of the California State Constitution provided for the
authority of the CCC's permit regulation.