Palazzolo v. Rhode Island

533 U.S. 606 (2001)

Quick Summary

Anthony Palazzolo (plaintiff) owned land in Rhode Island subject to wetland regulations that impeded his ability to develop it. He brought forth a lawsuit against Rhode Island (defendant), claiming a regulatory taking without compensation.

The dispute centered on whether these restrictions constituted a taking requiring compensation. The United States Supreme Court concluded that Palazzolo’s claim was ripe and warranted further consideration under established takings principles.

Facts of the Case

Anthony Palazzolo (plaintiff) became the owner of an 18-acre plot of waterfront land in Rhode Island which had been designated as wetlands by a state agency (defendant), significantly restricting development. Despite the regulations, Palazzolo sought to build a beach club on the land but was denied permits twice in the 1980s.

Arguing that the wetlands regulations amounted to an uncompensated taking of his property under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, Palazzolo filed a lawsuit seeking over $3 million in damages.

The case traveled through the state courts, all of which rejected Palazzolo’s claims, before reaching the United States Supreme Court. The high court was tasked with determining whether the regulations constituted a regulatory taking, requiring compensation.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. Palazzolo acquired the land already subject to wetland regulations.
  2. After being denied permits to develop the land, Palazzolo filed a lawsuit in state court claiming regulatory taking.
  3. The trial court rejected Palazzolo’s suit, which was subsequently affirmed by the appellate court and state supreme court.
  4. Palazzolo appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

I.R.A.C. Format


Whether state wetland regulations that restricted development on Palazzolo’s property constituted an uncompensated regulatory taking in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Rule of Law

A regulation that denies all economically beneficial or productive use of land is a taking that requires compensation under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. However, when a regulation falls short of this, a taking may still occur based on factors such as economic impact, interference with investment-backed expectations, and the character of government action.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court disagreed with the Rhode Island Supreme Court’s conclusion that Palazzolo’s claim was not ripe and that he could not challenge pre-existing regulations. The Court found that the final decision requirement was met because the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (Council) had denied Palazzolo permission to fill or develop the wetlands, leaving no uncertainty regarding permitted uses for his property.

The Court also held that Palazzolo’s failure to submit proposals for more modest developments did not make his claim unripe, as the Council’s decisions indicated no development would be permitted on the wetlands. While acknowledging some value remained in the upland portions of the property, the Court remanded for further consideration under Penn Central principles.


The Supreme Court held that Palazzolo had a ripe takings claim and could challenge the regulations despite acquiring the land after they were enacted. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

Key Takeaways

  1. A property owner can challenge regulations that were in place before acquiring the property if they constitute a regulatory taking.
  2. The ripeness of a takings claim is determined by whether there remains any uncertainty about the permitted uses under the challenged regulation.
  3. The Supreme Court will remand a case for further consideration if it finds that lower courts have not properly applied established legal principles regarding takings claims.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What determines the ripeness of a regulatory taking claim?

Ripeness in a regulatory taking claim is determined by whether a final and authoritative decision has been made on the property’s permitted uses under the challenged regulation. A claim is ripe for adjudication when it is clear that the regulation has deprived the property of all or nearly all of its economic use and there is no room for further discretionary actions that might affect the property’s use. This ensures that courts are deciding claims in concrete factual contexts, avoiding both premature adjudication and abstract disputes.

  • For example: If a city enacts a zoning ordinance prohibiting all commercial development on a landowner’s property, the owner’s taking claim would be considered ripe once it’s clear no variance or exception would be granted, thus crystallizing the regulation’s impact on property value.

How does acquisition of property already subject to regulation impact a takings claim?

Acquisition of property already under regulatory constraints does not automatically bar a takings claim. The date of enactment of regulations versus the date of property acquisition is not dispositive; rather, it is whether applying the regulation deprives the owner of all economically beneficial uses of the land post-acquisition. The focus is on the effect of the regulation on property value and owner expectations.

  • For example: Suppose someone buys an empty lot in an area zoned exclusively for single-family homes with knowledge of this restriction but later seeks to develop a commercial complex. A taking has not necessarily occurred just because they were aware of the zoning when they purchased; if a rezoning denied them any viable use of their property, it might still be challenged as a taking.

Under what conditions can government regulation constitute a 'taking' requiring compensation?

A government regulation can constitute a ‘taking’ requiring compensation under two main conditions: Firstly, if the regulation denies all economically beneficial or productive use of the land (a categorical taking as per Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council), or secondly, based on a complex set of factors that consider the economic impact, investment-backed expectations, and character of government action (a Penn Central analysis). Compensation is justified when regulation goes so far that it effectively functions as an expropriation of private property.

  • For example: A city ordinance that prevents mining on land with significant mineral resources might be deemed a taking if it effectively eliminates the land’s only economically feasible use, despite property being usable for other purposes such as agriculture or housing.


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