Lucas vs South Carolina Coastal Council

In the legal case of Lucas vs South Carolina Coastal Council, the United States Supreme Court disagreed with the South Carolina Supreme Court’s decision that people are not entitled to use land in ways that are harmful to the public and reversed the state’s decision (Salzman and Thompson 2019, 84). This decision led to Lucas being compensated for the land he could no longer develop as he wished. One concern of the federal Supreme Court was that it is not possible to differentiate what activities would be harmful to the public or beneficial since the State’s claim of “harmful to the public” is open to wide interpretation.

Another issue that led to the federal Supreme Court overturning the state’s decision was that the state had already determined that the Beachfront Management Act did eliminate all economically viable uses of the land (Bronin 2021, 2:16). The federal Supreme Court decision affected the State’s approach by making them more careful with agreeing with future claims that all economically viable use of land was eliminated. It also creates additional worries for states regarding the passage of future laws that could lead to compensation issues as well (Bronin 2021, 8:05). As a benefit though, the federal Supreme Court decision did help highlight the issue with vague definitions.

I feel that this case had stages where it did not appropriately balance weighing private property rights versus the protection of the public interest. I agree with Justice Blackmun’s comment regarding the fact that there was still a variety of land use options that did not lead to all economically viable uses of the land being eliminated (Bronin 2021, 6:30). The ownership of land rights does not guarantee that the owner can turn maximum profits from whatever endeavor they wish. Allowing developers to place their investment risk onto public agencies through regulatory takings places taxpayers on the hook for developer risk. Lucas’s entire property did not fall into the no-build zone, so it seems highly unlikely that all economically viable uses were removed. However, since the state Supreme Court made the mistake of already agreeing that all economically viable uses were eliminated, there was very little chance for it to work out favorably for the state. The case brought to the federal Supreme Court was whether the state Supreme Court’s ruling about how people can use their land. I think the federal Supreme Court made the correct decision regarding those specifics. This example highlights the issues of how complex regulatory environments can get as new policy is layered on top of existing laws and how definitions can play a critical role in determinations.


Bronin, Sara C. 2021. “Regulatory Takings – Lucas v. S.C. Coastal Council: Property Law 101 #91.” April 21, 2021. Accessed June 15, 2021.

Salzman, James, and Barton H. Jr. Thompson. 2019. Environmental Law and Policy. 5th ed. St. Paul, MN: Foundation Press.

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