Here's one, just issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
We'll let you read the opinion in Chmielewski v. City of St. Pete Beach, No. 16-16402 (May 16, 2018), for the full story, but to get you started, here's the summary: the court affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a property owner who asserted that the City's invitation to the public to permanently and continually access the adjacent beach via a private parcel, was a physical taking.
The short story is that the Chmielewskis owned a beach parcel in a subdivision, and earlier had sought to quiet title against the City which owned several other parcels within the subdivision. As part of the settlement of that action, the City agreed "that its [the City's] ownership of five lots in the Subdivision did not give the general public the right to use Block M, including the Chmielewskis' beach parcel." Slip op. at 4.
Later the city redeveloped a building on one of the subdivision parcels for a community center:
As part of those renovations, the City beautified the mini-park, installed benches, and cleared a direct public access path from the mini-park across Block M to the Gulf. For good measure, the City also cleared out the overgrowth on the Block M sidewalk behind the Chmielewskis’ house. At both the north and south ends of Block M, the City posted large, circular signs with the City’s emblem stating “Beach Access.” These signs were visible to passing motorists on El Centro Street.The City also cleared and improved the parking lot next to the Don Vista building, grassed and landscaped the area, and removed the fencing around the parking lot, as well as the chains and gate that blocked its entrance and had previously prevented after-hours entry or use. The City made the area attractive with convenient public parking to facilitate beach access. In addition, the City installed metered public parking across the street (within half a block) for Block M beach access parking and publicly announced that it had provided parking to allow the public to use the Block M beach. On its website, the City published a map showing public access to the Block M beach at the Don Vista Center. At a public meeting, the City Manager proclaimed that the City had invested lots of money to have a beautiful center and needed to put it to full use by having the visiting public use the Block M beach.
Slip op. at 4-5. The City also zoned and mapped the area, including the Chmielewski parcel as "recreation open space/public park," a designation which meant the parcel is a public beach. Id. at 5.
The public accepted the City's invitations, and instead of the "quiet, serene, pleasant and peaceful" beach parcel they had before, the Chmielewskis endured trespassers and other beachgoers. The City "declined to enforce its trespassing laws." Slip op. at 7. The Chmielewskis instituted a § 1983 action in federal court, alleging the City's invitation to the public resulted in "an unreasonable seizure of their property in violation of their Fourth Amendment rights and an unlawful taking of their beach parcel without full compensation in violation of the Florida Constitution." Slip op. at 8.
After a four-day trial, the jury agreed with the Chmielewskis on both the federal Fourth Amendment claim, and the state law takings claim. The court denied the City's motion for new trial, and the City appealed, arguing "there is no evidence of a taking under Florida law." Slip op. at 11. "Alternatively, the City contends that if he judgment is enforced, it should receive title to the beach parcel." Id.
The Eleventh Circuit upheld the physical taking verdict, because the City encouraged the public's use of the Chmielewskis' beach property. See p. 13-14 for a list of the things the City did, which the court agreed "resulted in frequent public use of the beach parcel." Id. at 14. In short, there was enough evidence to support the jury's verdict.
The court rejected the City's argument that the City needed to assert ownership and exclusive control of the land before it could be liable for a taking. The court held that "ownership and exclusive control are not necessary elements for a takings claim," and it was enough that the government invited the public to temporarily or permanently occupy private land.
On the remedy, the court also agreed with the owner's argument that the inverse condemnation judgment and just compensation and damage award by the District Court didn't mean the City was entitled to title to the land.
The City claims it would be inequitable for the Chmielewskis to retain fee title when the jury found the City had affected a physical taking of the entire beach parcel and had awarded damages for the full value of the property. Yet in returning a verdict for the Chmielewskis, the jury simply found that the City had taken for itself, or for the public, “a permanent and continuous right to pass to and fro” over the property.
Slip op. at 16.
In other words, the City's invitation to the public and the resultant public use of the property was the taking of an easement, not the fee title. Also, the just comp and damages awarded by the jury had been calculated based on the taking of an easement, not the fee.
Overall, a readable and interesting opinion. Check it out.