Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Holds Legislative Conditions Are Subject To Nexus-And-Proportionality Requirements

Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Holds Legislative Conditions Are Subject To Nexus-And-Proportionality Requirements

Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Holds Legislative Conditions Are Subject To Nexus-And-Proportionality Requirements

This post was authored by Robert Thomas, Esq. and originally appeared on the InverseCondemnation Blog and is reposted with permission. See,

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Knight v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville, No. 21-6179 (May 10, 2023) held that conditions imposed on every development — and not just ad hoc administratively-imposed conditions — must conform to the Nollan-Dolan-Koontz close nexus and rough proportionality standards.

The Sixth Circuit has added to the growing split in the lower courts about whether legislatively-imposed conditions on development which cover everyone are, as some courts characterize them, mere land use regulations subject only to Euclid’s rational basis review, or are constrained by the NDK’ s requirements. The Supreme Court has been presented with the lower court agree, but so far has not stepped in and resolved the issue.

The Sixth Circuit experienced no such qualifications when considering a Nashville ordinance that conditions the grant of building permits on the owners agreeing to either grant an easement across their land and build a sidewalk on that easement, or give the city cash instead:

In particular, the parties here disagree over the “test” that we should use to judge whether the sidewalk ordinance commits a taking. The landowner plaintiffs ask us to apply the “unconstitutional-conditions” test that the Supreme Court adopted to assess conditions on building permits in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, 483 US 825 (1987). Nashville responded that the Court has applied Nollan’s test only to ad hoc administrative conditions that zoning officials impose on specific permit applicants—not generally applicable legislative conditions that city councils impose on all permit applicants. For legislative conditions, Nashville says, we should turn to the differential “balancing” test that the Court adopted to assess zoning restrictions in Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, 438 US 104 (1978).

We side with the landowner plaintiffs. Nothing in the relevant constitutional text, history, or precedent supports Nashville’s distinction between administrative and legislative conditions. Nollan’s test thus should apply to both types, including those imposed by the sidewalk ordinance. Because the district court reached a contrary conclusion, we reversed its grant of summary judgment to Nashville and remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

slip op. at 2.

The court concluded that the Takings Clause is a limit on legislative authority, not just executive power. See slip op. at 20.

The Court noted:

“The government does not always directly interfere with constitutional rights. It sometimes directly interferes with them by offering a benefit that it has no duty to provide on the condition that a party waives the right.” slip op. at 10.

“But what rules divide constitutional from unconstitutional conditions on these otherwise discretionary benefits? One generic rule is clear: If the Constitution allows the government to directly compel a private party to undertake conduct on the threat of criminal punishment, the government may indirectly compel that conduct as a condition on a benefit.” id.

“Courts must instead look to a specific constitutional right to identify the specific rules. id. at 913. This fact brings Nollan to the fore. It created a ‘special unconstitutional-conditions framework for an “exaction” in the taking context. slip op. at 10-11.

“At first blush, Nashville’s enforcement of its sidewalk ordinance looks like a clear case for Nollan’s unconstitutional-conditions test.” slip op. at 14.

“Does it matter that the sidewalk ordinance allowed Knight and Mayes to pay fees rather than build sidewalks? No again. Because these “commonplace” in-lieu fees resembled “other types of land use exactions,” Koontz held that they triggered Nollan’s test all the same.” slip op. at 16.

“This case requires us to answer that question. We now hold that Nollan’s unconstitutional-conditions test applies just as much to legislatively compelled permit conditions as it does to administratively imposed ones. Nothing in the text or original understanding of the Takings Clause justifies Nashville’s requested distinction. Its requested distinction also conflicts both with the Supreme Court’s unconstitutional-conditions precedent and with its taking precedent.” slip op. at 18.

The court held that the “text and history” of the taking clause compelled the outcome, slip op. at 18-22, as says “Supreme Court precedent.” slip op. at 22-72.

Having determined that Nashville’s ordinance is subject to the nexus and proportionality requirements, the court concluded that the city waived the argument that the ordinance met the test: “Nashville has waived any argument that it can satisfy this unconstitutional-conditions test. Knight and Mayes spent pages of their brief arguing that the city could not meet Nollan’s and Dolan’s elements. … But Nashville did not even try to respond, opting to rely exclusively on its claim that Penn Central’s test applied.” slip op. at 28.

Finally, the court thought about the remedy, and whether it is just compensation (here’s your in-lieu fee back, property owner), or equitable relief in the form of a declaratory judgment or an injunction? See slip op. at 28. But the court didn’t resolve that question and left it for the district court on remand.

Knight v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville, No. 21-6179 (6th Circ. May 10, 2023)

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