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The Limitations Period for Inverse Condemnation Claims Starts When a Claimant Can Maintain a Lawsuit

on Monday, 19 December 2016 in Dirt Alert: David C. Levy, Editor

Randy and Helen Strode purchased several tracts of land in Ashland, Nebraska. Between November 2002 and June 2003, the City of Ashland (the “City”) repeatedly notified Randy his use of the property to store salvage violated zoning regulations. On June 10, 2003, the City mailed him a notice of intent to institute legal action. The City subsequently obtained an injunction to stop Randy’s nonconforming use.

On September 5, 2013, Randy and Helen sued the City for inverse condemnation under the zoning ordinance. The district court dismissed the suit. The Strodes appealed.

The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed. The court held that the applicable ten-year statute of limitations barred both Randy’s and Helen’s takings claims.

The Nebraska Supreme Court had not previously addressed when the limitations period starts running on an inverse condemnation action in the context of regulatory takings. The Strode court held, “a cause of action for inverse condemnation begins to accrue when the injured party has the right to institute and maintain a lawsuit due to a city’s infringement, or an attempt at infringement, of a landowner’s legal rights in the property.”

The relevant question, therefore, was when the Strodes had the right to sue and maintain a suit against the City. At the latest, the statute of limitations began to run on Randy’s claim on June 10, 2003, when the City mailed Randy stating the City’s intent to commence legal action against him, infringing on his property rights.

Helen argued the statute of limitations did not bar her separate claim for inverse condemnation because the statute did not begin to run until the conclusion of the 2003 litigation. The court held, however, that Helen had the right to sue and maintain a lawsuit against the City in June 2003, at the latest, when the City sent the letter to Randy.

As a co-owner, Helen had essentially the same rights in the property as Randy, and whether Helen had actual notice of the ordinance was immaterial. It was not necessary she know the nature and extent of the damages the injunction allegedly caused. Because more than ten years elapsed between when she had the right to institute and maintain a lawsuit and when she sued, the statute of limitations barred her claim for inverse condemnation as well as her husband’s.

Nick F. Miller

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