Update: the latest in the latest Williamson County-related cert petition here.
If you tried to explain the practical results of Williamson County's ripeness requirements to someone not familiar in the last 30 years of regulatory takings jurisprudence, they would probably think you were joking.
As we've explained many times, under Williamson County, a property owner alleging a violation of her express federal constitutional right prohibiting takings without just compensation cannot bring that federal constitutional claim in a federal court. Instead, she is first required to present her state claim for compensation to a state court before she can even think of a federal action. And if she loses in state court, she will be deemed to have also litigated the federal claim, even if she expressly did not. Williamson County's rationale was that there is no violation of the Fifth Amendment by a state or local government unless and until the property owner could both show that there was a taking, and that the state had denied compensation. So, you see, you have to lose your state takings claim to ripen your federal takings claim.
Williamson County gets particularly bizarre when courts extend it beyond the takings clause, since what thin justification exists for the rule is grounded in the language of the Fifth Amendment. Yet, the lower federal courts regularly apply it to Equal Protection and Due Process Claims, somehow transforming Williamson County from a limited takings requirement to a full-blown bar to the federal courthouse door for any plaintiff alleging a property-related claim. See River Park, Inc. v. Country Club Estates, Ltd., 23 F.3d 164, 167 (7th Cir. 1994) (substantive due process subject to Williamson County's state litigation requirement); Covington Court Ltd. v. Village of Oak Brook, 77 F.3d 177, 179 (7th Cir. 1996) (due process); Bateman v. City of West Bountiful, 89 F.3d 704, 709 (10th Cir. 1996) (due process and equal protection claims subject to Williamson County). For a particularly weird angle, see Braun v. Ann Arbor Township, 519 F.3d 564 (6th Cir. 2008), which concluded that all of the property owner's federal claims were "takings" claims (even though they sought different relief), and whacked the plaintiff's equal protection and due process claims along with its takings claim.
Well, in Bowlby v. City of Aberdeen, No. 11-60279 (May 14, 2012), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit provided a different view, and injected a modicum of reality into the strange world of Williamson County. We won't go too far into the case's details, except to say that the plaintiff had a business permit, which the City summarily revoked. She sued in federal court for a taking and for procedural due process and equal protection violations, and the court promptly dismissed her complaint under Williamson County. She did not pursue an appeal of the takings dismissal, but asserted that Williamson County's state litigation requirement of that case did not require dismissal of the due process or equal protection claim. See this post by Pacific Legal Foundation for more background.
The Fifth Circuit reversed, concluding that Williamson County is applicable only to takings claims, and not due process or equal protection claims:
In Bowlby’s case, however, her business permits were definitively taken away. While it is possible that, had she appealed to the mayor or Board of Alderman, she may have regained her permits, the actual taking is "irreversible," unlike the application of a regulation. ... More importantly, under this Court’s precedents, a procedural due process claim that is brought concurrently with a takings claim, such as Bowlby’s, should be analyzed not under the principles of Williamson County, but according to "general ripeness principles."
Slip op. at 10-11. Read the entire opinion. You will appreciate it.