Oyster Takings Claims

Campo v. United States, No. 20-44, 2021 WL 6102151 (Fed. Cl. Dec. 23, 2021)

[For a good discussion of the Louisiana law on property interests in oyster leases, see: John J. Costonis, Avenal v. State: Takings and Damagings in Louisiana, 65 La. L. Rev. (2005)]

Just handed down by the Court of Federal Claims. Denial of SJ on plaintiffs’ claims that the Corps took their property by operating the Bonne Carre spillway. The state SC kicked the same type of claims some years ago because they only lease the land from the state and the lease makes it clear that they do not have a continuing property interest.

“In his 1690 Second Treatise of Government, John Locke famously noted “the labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.” Over 300 years later, this case raises the unique legal issue of whether Louisiana oyster growers may claim property rights in the fruits of their labor-oysters.

Plaintiff oyster farmers allege the United States deprived them of use, occupancy and enjoyment of their personal oyster stock and real property (oyster beds and reefs). The farmers allege the government actions resulted in a permanent taking of their property for a public use without payment of just compensation in violation of the Takings Clause of the United States Constitution. The government admits when plaintiffs sell oysters they are “paid for the fruits of [their] effort,” and plaintiffs may assert rights to exclude, destroy, use, possess, recover for larceny, alienate, sue third parties for damages, and enjoy the fruits of selling oysters. Despite acknowledging those rights, the government moves to dismiss the portion of plaintiffs’ claim alleging a taking of the oysters; the government argues plaintiff farmers lack a compensable property right in the oysters. For myriad reasons detailed infra, under Louisiana precedent, federal common law, and Lockean labor theory, plaintiffs undoubtedly have compensable property rights in their oysters. Accordingly, the Court DENIES the government’s motion to dismiss in part pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Court of Federal Claims.”

 

Leave a Reply