By Cori M. Badgley 

In City of Los Angeles v. Superior Court (2011) 194 Cal.App.4th 210, plaintiffs argued that the city’s actions of purchasing properties in areas near the LAX airport and then demolishing the buildings constituted inverse condemnation of adjacent properties owned by plaintiffs. The court, however, was not persuaded, and plaintiffs’ suit was dismissed.

In 2000, the city established the “Voluntary Residential Acquisition and Relocation Program” for the neighborhoods of Manchester Square and Belford. According to the city, this program was created in response to residents of these areas expressing a desire to relocate, instead of getting their homes soundproofed as mitigation for the noise created by the airport (LAX). As the title of the program implies, the city only purchased properties from those who chose to sell to the city. Unlike the majority of the properties in Manchester Square and Belford, plaintiffs, owners of property within the neighborhoods, chose not to sell, and as more and more buildings were demolished by the city, the number of renters in plaintiffs’ properties continued to decrease. Instead of selling their properties, plaintiffs brought suit against the city claiming inverse condemnation. The trial court agreed with plaintiffs, holding that the city’s actions constituted inverse condemnation. The city appealed, and the appellate court reversed.

In the appellate court’s words, the question it addressed was “whether the City’s creation of ‘condemnation blight’ resulted in a duty to pay just compensation.” In answering “no,” the court discussed prior case law holding that “there is no property right appurtenant to plaintiff’s property. . .  which entitled him to the maintenance of his residences. . . ” (Bacich v. Board of Control (1943) 23 Cal.2d 343; see also Hecton v. People ex rel. Dept. of Transportation (1976) 58 Cal.App.3d 653; Oliver v. AT&T Wireless Services (1999) 76 Cal.App.4th 521.) The court also discussed another Supreme Court case, Klopping v. City of Whittier (1972) 8 Cal.3d 39, in which the City of Whittier had initiated and then withdrawn condemnation proceedings while continuing to declare that it would one day condemn the property. The California Supreme Court found that this amounted to a compensable taking.

In this case, Plaintiffs asserted that the principles in Klopping applied to the city’s actions, and therefore, a taking had occurred. In comparing the facts in this case to the facts in Klopping, the court found that plaintiffs had failed to show any facts that would support a Klopping-taking. Specifically, plaintiffs presented no evidence “that the City had condemned their properties, had intent to eventually acquire their properties through condemnation, or had a plan for future use of their property that would someday require condemnation of their properties – or any property in Manchester Square or Belford.” Contrary to plaintiffs’ implications, the city’s program was voluntary, and plaintiffs presented no evidence that any former owner felt coerced to sell their property to the city. Under these facts, the court held that the city acted properly in acquiring and demolishing the properties, and plaintiffs were not entitled to compensation.

This case reinforces the difficulty in establishing a claim for inverse condemnation when there is not a direct physical invasion of the property.

Cori Badgley is an attorney at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP.  For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, or the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.