Landowner scores Supreme Court win in property rights case

By Niina H. Farah | 04/12/2024 01:47 PM EDT

The justices ordered more review to determine if a California county traffic impact fee violated the takings clause of the U.S. Constitution.

George Sheetz in front of his home in El Dorado County, California.

George Sheetz in front of his home in El Dorado County, California. Pacific Legal Foundation/Flickr

The Supreme Court handed a California landowner a narrow win Friday, when the justices unanimously ruled that a lower bench had to evaluate whether a county fee to fund infrastructure upgrades violated constitutional protections for individual property rights.

The justices directed a state court to review whether El Dorado County had violated the takings clause when it required George Sheetz to pay a traffic impact fee of more than $23,000 as a condition of building a prefabricated home on a parcel of land he owned. The clause guarantees that private property owners are entitled to just compensation if private property is taken for public use.

The ruling rejected the findings of the California Court of Appeal, which ruled that a legal test used to decide whether fees were fair did not apply in this case. The case is now being sent back to determine if the fee violated the takings clause.


The state appeals court had found that permit conditions were only subject to review under the two-part test — referred to as the Nollan/Dolan test — when fees were imposed by administrators. But in this case, the fee was levied under the County Board of Supervisors’ general plan.