Damages not an issue in land-use case
A federal judge has ruled that a legal challenge of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s land-use authority will be settled on the legal issues involved, and not on actual damages to the plaintiffs.
The ruling by Judge Edward Reed of the U.S. District Court in Reno is the fourth handed down in recent weeks in a landmark lawsuit filed in 1984 by the Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council.
Attorneys for each side in the long-running legal feud described the ruling as favorable to their interests.
“We’re thrilled,” said Susan Scholley of the TRPA. “The suit is clearly a facial case – always has been and always will. It will be more difficult for the plaintiffs to prove their case.”
Larry Hoffman, a Tahoe City attorney representing the preservation council, a property-rights group, described the ruling’s importance as slight, and said he raised no strong objections to it.
“I’ll be darned if I know what the significance of that is,” Hoffman said. “But it may make it more difficult for the TRPA to prove its case.”
Both attorneys said they are anxious to see how the judge rules on the two remaining motions by the TRPA. One would toss out claims based on the agency’s 1987 Regional Plan, and the other will determine whether the case is tried before a jury or a judge.
“The key motion is who’s actually going to hear the trial,” Hoffman said.
The plaintiffs would prefer a jury trial, while the TRPA asked for the case to be settled by the judge.
The lawsuit is one of two major cases challenging the TRPA’s authority that may result in a trial this year. The Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council is representing about 400 plaintiffs who claim the TRPA engaged in an unconstitutional “taking” of their property when it imposed strict controls on development in environmentally sensitive areas without fair compensation. The suit seeks $26 million in damages.
District courts have dismissed the lawsuit on technical grounds on two occasions, but each time the Ninth U.S. District Court of Appeals overturned the decision and sent the case back to court.
In a separate action, Bernadine Suitum of Sacramento County is seeking to set aside TRPA rules that prohibit her from building a home on an Incline Village lot she and her husband purchased in the 1970s. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that Suitum does not have to try to sell her land before claiming damages from TRPA’s regulations.
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