Thursday, February 28, 2013

Casitas Municipal Water District v. U.S.

Feb 27: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit, Case No. 2012-5033. Appealed from the United States Court of Federal Claims. In this case a local government alleges that the Federal government has imposed regulations that constitute a legal takings claim with out just compensation.

    Casitas Municipal Water District (Casitas) operates the Ventura River Project (the Project). The Project, which is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), provides water to residential, industrial, and agricultural customers in Ventura County, California. Ventura County is located on the southern coast of California, approximately sixty miles northwest of Los Angeles.

    On January 26, 2005, Casitas brought suit in the United States Court of Federal Claims, alleging that, by imposing certain operating criteria on the Project, the United States had taken its property without just compensation, in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. On December 5, 2011, the Court of Federal Claims dismissed Casitas's complaint without prejudice, on the ground that Casitas's takings claim was not ripe.
    In dismissing the complaint, the court held that Casitas's claim was not ripe because Casitas had failed to demonstrate that the operating criteria had as yet caused it to deliver less water to its customers than it otherwise would have delivered. Casitas Mun. Water Dist. v. United States, 102 Fed. Cl. 443 (2011) (Casitas V). Casitas now appeals the dismissal of its complaint. The Appeals Court affirmed the lower court dismissal.
    In August of 1997, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) listed the West Coast steelhead trout as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Casitas, its officers, and the BOR faced possible civil and criminal liability
under section 9 of the ESA if continued operation of the Project resulted in harm to the steelhead trout. A fish ladder was considered a mitigating method and the facility was opened on December 9, 2004.
    Casitas said the United States had breached the 1956 Contract. In the alternative, Casitas asserted that, by imposing the operating criteria, the United States had taken Casitas's property without just compensation, in violation of the Fifth Amendment. Under its contract theory, Casitas sought reimbursement of the approximately $9.5 million that it had spent to build the fish ladder facility. Under its takings theory, it sought compensation for the water it claimed it had lost by the imposition of the operating
    On October 2, 2006, the Court of Federal Claims dismissed Casitas's contract claim. The court ruled that the costs associated
with the construction of the fish ladder facility were operation and maintenance costs and thus not reimbursable under the Contract. In addition, the court ruled that, even if the government had breached the Contract, the sovereign acts doctrine shielded it from liability. To dispose of the case in the trial court on summary judgment, the parties asked the court to decide only the question of whether a diversion of water as a resultl of the fish ladder would constitute a physical or a regulatory taking. Ruling for the government, the court held that the alleged taking was regulatory because it involved the government's restraint on Casitas's use of its property rather than the government's takeover of the property. Based upon the parties' stipulations, it therefore entered summary judgment for the government on Casitas's takings claims and dismissed the complaint. Casitas appealed the dismissal of its complaint to this court. The Appeals Court agreed.
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Wildlife, #Water, #CAFed]
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