Inverse Condemnation Vs. Public Nuisance

In May 2010, the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Florida affirmed a verdict in favor of property owners whose orange trees were cut down and burned by the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (DACS). The decision hinged on two factors: whether the trees constituted a "public nuisance" and therefore had no value and whether the Florida legislature had passed a statutory definition of inverse condemnation that replaced the "common law" interpretation used by the jury.

In this case, the Court of Appeals rejected the DACS' arguments and reaffirmed powerful precedents that can help ensure you get full compensation in an inverse condemnation case.

Public Nuisance

The determination of whether a particular property represents a "public nuisance" is crucial because a public nuisance has no value and therefore deserves no compensation. The Court of Appeals used two tests to determine whether the property constituted a public nuisance.

First, imminent danger. Imminent danger is necessary to justify police or other government action that necessitates a physical appropriation of private property. If there is no imminent danger, then the government is not justified in acting without first seeking to address the situation in other ways, such as offering to purchase the property, or using potential fines to encourage the property owner to rectify the situation.

Second, it matters who is in danger and who benefits from the action. The Court of Appeals made it clear that only protection of the public good would justify government action without compensation. At no point is the government allowed to destroy your property for the benefit of a specific individual, industry, or group.

These tests only matter in an inverse condemnation case, because Florida law prohibits eminent domain for use in eliminating nuisance, slum, or blight conditions.

Common, Statutory, and Constitutional Law

The second set of arguments used by the DACS to attempt to overturn the original court decision was that the statutory definition of inverse condemnation superseded the "common law" definition, and that therefore since the situation did not meet the statutory definition, no compensation was due. However, the Court of Appeals decided that because compensation for property taken by government was a constitutional law, no statutes could deny compensation in the event property was taken by the government.

This is the distinction between these three types of law:

  • Common law is the general understanding of how a situation should be handled. It is often based on custom and precedent stretching back hundreds, even thousands of years. Common law applies in every situation for which there is no applicable statute.
  • Statutory law is the set of laws passed by the legislature to regulate many different legal situations or address perceived flaws in common-law interpretations of certain situations. In general, statutory law supersedes common law.
  • Constitutional law is the law contained in the US and state constitutions and their amendments. Constitutional law supersedes statutory and common law.

Because the right to compensation for property taken by the government is contained in both the US and Florida constitutions, it cannot be rescinded by statutory law.

You Protect Society When You Protect Your Rights

In a special concurring opinion, Judge Spencer Levine quoted US Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story to reaffirm the importance of the decision: "The sacred rights of property are to be guarded at every point. I call them sacred, because, if they are unprotected, all other rights become worthless or visionary."

If your property has been destroyed by a government action, an inverse condemnation procedure can get you just compensation for your loss. To learn more about how to proceed, please contact The Florida Property Rights Law Firm today to schedule a free initial consultation.