Case Study: Nollan v. CCC


Abstract of:
483 U.S. 825, 97 L. Ed.2d 677

James Patrick Nollan, et
ux., Appellant
California Coastal 

Case Definition:

 The case is Nollan versus the California Coastal Commission. 
The Nollans were the appellates against a decision made by the 
California Coastal Commission (CCC). The Nollans had been leasing a 
property on the California coast with which they had an option to buy. 
The property lies directly at the foot of the Pacific Ocean and is a 
prime piece of real estate on the California Coast. The property had 
been used by the Nollans to rent out during the summer months to 
vacationers. At the end of the Nollans' lease they took the option to 
purchase the land and began preparing for the terms of purchase by the 
previous land owner. Among those terms was the demolishing of the 
small deteriorating bungalow that the Nollans had been leasing. The 
Nollans had planned to expand the structure from the small bungalow 
that it was to a three bedroom house more complimentary to the 
surrounding homes and their needs. In order to begin destruction
of the property and begin rebuilding the site the Nollans had to 
secure a permit from the California Coastal Commission. Upon 
submitting the permit application, the CCC found that the permit 
should be granted on the condition that the Nollans provide public 
access to the beach and to the local county park, which lay adjacent 
to the property. This provision called for the Nollans to use a 
portion of their land to be used as a public walkway to the beach and 
park. The Nollans protested to the condition, but the CCC overruled 
the objection and granted the permit with the condition intact.

Case Decision:

 The Nollans filed a petition to the Ventura County Superior 
Court asking that the condition to supply easement be removed from 
their permit. The Nollans' argument was that there was not enough 
evidence to support the developments limiting of public access to the 
beach. The argument was agreed upon by the court and the case was 
remanded to the California Coastal Commission for a full evidentiary 
hearing on the issue of public access to the beach. The CCC held a 
public hearing which led to further factual findings which reaffirmed 
the need for the condition. The CCC's argument was that the building 
of the new structure would limit view of the ocean, and therefore 
limit access to the public who had full rights to use the beach. To 
compensate for the limitations on the public the Nollans would have to 
provide access to the beach from their property. The CCC also noted 
that all of the other developments on the same tract of land had been 
conditioned similarly in having to provide public access to the

 The Nollans filed a supplemental petition for a writ of 
administrative mandamus (a writ that would order a public official or 
body to comply with a specified duty issued by a superior court). The 
Nollans argument was that the permit condition violated the Takings 
Clause in the V Amendment, and also in the XIV Amendment of the 
Constitution. The court agreed that the administrative record did not 
provide for in showing the existence of adverse impact on the publics' 
access to the ocean. The court granted the writ of mandamus, and 
directed that the public access condition be removed from the permit.
The CCC appealed the case in the California Court of Appeal and won 
the decision. The Court of Appeal found an error in the Supreme Courts
interpretation of the Coastal Act which mandates public access to any
category of developments on the coast. The Court of Appeal also found
that the Takings claim was unsubstantiated by the Nollans. The permit 
condition did take from the value of the land, but did not restrict 
them of reasonable use of their property.

 The Nollans then appealed to the United States Supreme Court. 
The argument made by the Nollans continued to revolve around the 
Takings Clause in the V Amendment. The Supreme Court found that the 
requirement of the permit only put a restriction on the use of the 
property and not a "taking" of the property. The Supreme Court also 
held the California State Constitution to have standing, and upheld 
the ruling made by the Court of Appeals.

Reasoning for Decision:

 I believe that the reason the Supreme Court decided as it did 
was that its interpretation of the California State Constitution 
provided for the authority of the CCC's permit regulation. The part 
within the states constitution says that access to any navigable 
waters shall not be limited by any person when it is required for any 
public purpose. The "navigable water" clause infers the actual use of 
the water and not the beach itself. The Supreme Court did not want to 
make a case of this for intervening in states' constitutions is nasty 
business; and there was not a big deal concerning the language of the 
law from either of the parties. I think that a similar case could be 
argued attacking the Constitution of the State of California 
concerning the navigable waters clause. I would still have to agree 
with the CCC's permit condition of allowing public access to the 
beach, because I like the beach and am in no position to purchase land 
bordering it so I need access.


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