Does Pullman Abstention Apply To Federal Takings Claims Post-Knick?

Published date19 December 2022
Subject MatterReal Estate and Construction, Real Estate
Law FirmNossaman LLP
AuthorBenjamin Z. Rubin

According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the answer is a definitive yes.

Generally speaking, Pullman abstention permits a federal court to stay a federal claim to allow a state court to resolve a state issue that could either eliminate or narrow the scope of the federal claim. In order to invoke Pullman abstention, the federal claim must also touch on a sensitive area of social policy and involve an undecided question of state law.

In Gearing v. City of Half Moon Bay, the Gearings asserted that under California's Housing Crisis Act and California legislation passed in 2019 (Senate Bill 330), they were permitted as a matter of right to build housing on their properties. The City of Half Moon Bay asserted that the City's Land Use Plan severely restricted housing developments in the area where the properties were located, and that under the Land Use Plan the Gearings first needed to submit and the City needed to approve a master plan for the proposed housing development. Shortly thereafter, the City informed the Gearings that it planned to acquire their properties via eminent domain. Before any eminent domain action was filed, however, the Gearings filed an action in federal court asserting that the City's actions amounted to a regulatory taking in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Approximately one week later, the City filed an eminent domain action in state court. The City then followed that up with a motion in the federal case requesting that the federal court stay the regulatory takings claim under the Pullman abstention doctrine.

The Gearings argued that in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in Knick v. Township of Scott (2019) 139 S.Ct. 2162 and Pakdel v. City and County of San Francisco (2021) 141 S.Ct. 2226, Pullman abstention was no longer an option because it would effectively impose a state exhaustion requirement. Specifically, the Gearings argued that if the federal court stayed the federal litigation, they would have to litigate the crux of the regulatory takings claim - whether they did or did not have a right to build the proposed housing - as part of the state eminent domain action because it goes to the determination of the fair market value of the...

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