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LORETTO v. TELEPROMPTER MANHATTAN CATV CORP. ET AL.

decided: June 30, 1982.

LORETTO
v.
TELEPROMPTER MANHATTAN CATV CORP. ET AL.



APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK.

Marshall, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Powell, Rehnquist, Stevens, and O'connor, JJ., joined. Blackmun, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Brennan and White, JJ., joined, post, p. 442.

Author: Marshall

[ 458 U.S. Page 421]

 JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a minor but permanent physical occupation of an owner's property authorized by government constitutes a "taking" of property for which just compensation is due under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. New York law provides that a landlord must permit a cable television company to install its cable facilities upon his property. N. Y. Exec. Law § 828(1) (McKinney Supp. 1981-1982). In this case, the cable installation occupied portions of appellant's roof and the side of her building. The New York Court of Appeals ruled that this appropriation does not amount to a taking. 53 N. Y. 2d 124, 423 N. E. 2d 320 (1981). Because we conclude that such a physical occupation of property is a taking, we reverse.

I

Appellant Jean Loretto purchased a five-story apartment building located at 303 West 105th Street, New York City, in 1971. The previous owner had granted appellees Teleprompter Corp. and Teleprompter Manhattan CATV (collectively Teleprompter)*fn1 permission to install a cable on the building and the exclusive privilege of furnishing cable

[ 458 U.S. Page 422]

     television (CATV) services to the tenants. The New York Court of Appeals described the installation as follows:

"On June 1, 1970 TelePrompter installed a cable slightly less than one-half inch in diameter and of approximately 30 feet in length along the length of the building about 18 inches above the roof top, and directional taps, approximately 4 inches by 4 inches by 4 inches, on the front and rear of the roof. By June 8, 1970 the cable had been extended another 4 to 6 feet and cable had been run from the directional taps to the adjoining building at 305 West 105th Street." Id., at 135, 423 N. E. 2d, at 324.

Teleprompter also installed two large silver boxes along the roof cables. The cables are attached by screws or nails penetrating the masonry at approximately two-foot intervals, and other equipment is installed by bolts.

Initially, Teleprompter's roof cables did not service appellant's building. They were part of what could be described as a cable "highway" circumnavigating the city block, with service cables periodically dropped over the front or back of a building in which a tenant desired service. Crucial to such a network is the use of so-called "crossovers" -- cable lines extending from one building to another in order to reach a new group of tenants.*fn2 Two years after appellant purchased the building, Teleprompter connected a "noncrossover" line -- i. e., one that provided CATV service to appellant's own tenants -- by dropping a line to the first floor down the front of appellant's building.

[ 458 U.S. Page 423]

     Prior to 1973, Teleprompter routinely obtained authorization for its installations from property owners along the cable's route, compensating the owners at the standard rate of 5% of the gross revenues that Teleprompter realized from the particular property. To facilitate tenant access to CATV, the State of New York enacted § 828 of the Executive Law, effective January 1, 1973. Section 828 provides that a landlord may not "interfere with the installation of cable television facilities upon his property or premises," and may not demand payment from any tenant for permitting CATV, or demand payment from any CATV company "in excess of any amount which the [State Commission on Cable Television] shall, by regulation, determine to be reasonable."*fn3 The landlord may, however, require the CATV company or the tenant to bear the cost of installation and to indemnify for any damage caused by the installation. Pursuant to § 828(1)(b), the State Commission has ruled that a one-time $1 payment

[ 458 U.S. Page 424]

     is the normal fee to which a landlord is entitled. In the Matter of Implementation of Section 828 of the Executive Law, No. 90004, Statement of General Policy (New York State Commission on Cable Television, Jan. 15, 1976) (Statement of General Policy), App. 51-52; Clarification of General Policy (Aug. 27, 1976), App. 68-69. The Commission ruled that this nominal fee, which the Commission concluded was equivalent to what the landlord would receive if the property were condemned pursuant to New York's Transportation Corporations Law, satisfied constitutional requirements "in the absence of a special showing of greater damages attributable to the taking." Statement of General Policy, App. 52.

Appellant did not discover the existence of the cable until after she had purchased the building. She brought a class action against Teleprompter in 1976 on behalf of all owners of real property in the State on which Teleprompter has placed CATV components, alleging that Teleprompter's installation was a trespass and, insofar as it relied on § 828, a taking without just compensation. She requested damages and injunctive relief.*fn4 Appellee City of New York, which has granted Teleprompter an exclusive franchise to provide CATV within certain areas of Manhattan, intervened. The Supreme Court, Special Term, granted summary judgment to Teleprompter and the city, upholding the constitutionality of § 828 in both crossover and noncrossover situations. 98 Misc. 2d 944, 415 N. Y. S. 2d 180 (1979). The Appellate Division affirmed without opinion. 73 App. Div. 2d 849, 422 N. Y. S. 2d 550 (1979).

On appeal, the Court of Appeals, over dissent, upheld the statute. 53 N. Y. 2d 124, 423 N. E. 2d 320 (1981). The court concluded that the law requires the landlord to allow both crossover and noncrossover installations but permits him to

[ 458 U.S. Page 425]

     request payment from the CATV company under § 828(1)(b), at a level determined by the State Cable Commission, only for noncrossovers. The court then ruled that the law serves a legitimate police power purpose -- eliminating landlord fees and conditions that inhibit the development of CATV, which has important educational and community benefits. Rejecting the argument that a physical occupation authorized by government is necessarily a taking, the court stated that the regulation does not have an excessive economic impact upon appellant when measured against her aggregate property rights, and that it does not interfere with any reasonable investment-backed expectations. Accordingly, the court held that § 828 does not work a taking of appellant's property. Chief Judge Cooke dissented, reasoning that the physical appropriation of a portion of appellant's property is a taking without regard to the balancing analysis courts ordinarily employ in evaluating whether a regulation is a taking.

In light of its holding, the Court of Appeals had no occasion to determine whether the $1 fee ordinarily awarded for a noncrossover installation was adequate compensation for the taking. Judge Gabrielli, concurring, agreed with the dissent that the law works a taking but concluded that the $1 presumptive award, together with the procedures permitting a landlord to demonstrate a greater entitlement, affords just compensation. We noted probable jurisdiction. 454 U.S. 938 (1981).

II

[ 458 U.S. Page 426]

     The Court of Appeals determined that § 828 serves the legitimate public purpose of "rapid development of and maximum penetration by a means of communication which has important educational and community aspects," 53 N. Y. 2d, at 143-144, 423 N. E. 2d, at 329, and thus is within the State's police power. We have no reason to question that determination. It is a separate question, however, whether an otherwise valid regulation so frustrates property rights that compensation must be paid. See Penn Central Transportation Page 426} Co. v. New York City, 438 U.S. 104, 127-128 (1978); Delaware, L. & W. R. Co. v. Morristown, 276 U.S. 182, 193 (1928). We conclude that a permanent physical occupation authorized by government is a taking without regard to the public interests that it may serve. Our constitutional history confirms the rule, recent cases do not question it, and the purposes of the Takings Clause compel its retention.

A

In Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, supra, the Court surveyed some of the general principles governing the Takings Clause. The Court noted that no "set formula" existed to determine, in all cases, whether compensation is constitutionally due for a government restriction of property. Ordinarily, the Court must engage in "essentially ad hoc, factual inquiries." Id., at 124. But the inquiry is not standardless. The economic impact of the regulation, especially the degree of interference with investment-backed expectations, is of particular significance. "So, too, is the character of the governmental action. A 'taking' may more readily be found when the interference with property can be characterized as a physical invasion by government, than when interference arises from some public program adjusting the benefits and burdens of economic life to promote the common good." Ibid. (citation omitted).

As Penn Central affirms, the Court has often upheld substantial regulation of an owner's use of his own property where deemed necessary to promote the public interest. At the same time, we have long considered a physical intrusion by government to be a property restriction of an unusually serious character for purposes of the Takings Clause. Our cases further establish that when the physical intrusion reaches the extreme form of a permanent physical occupation, a taking has occurred. In such a case, "the character of the government action" not only is an important factor in resolving whether the action works a taking but also is determinative.

[ 458 U.S. Page 427]

     When faced with a constitutional challenge to a permanent physical occupation of real property, this Court has invariably found a taking.*fn5 As early as 1872, in Pumpelly v. Green Bay Co., 13 Wall. 166, this Court held that the defendant's construction, pursuant to state authority, of a dam which permanently flooded plaintiff's property constituted a taking. A unanimous Court stated, without qualification, that "where real estate is actually invaded by superinduced additions of water, earth, sand, or other material, or by having any artificial structure placed on it, so as to effectually destroy or impair its usefulness, it is a taking, within the meaning of the Constitution." Id., at 181. Seven years later, the Court reemphasized the importance of a physical occupation by distinguishing a regulation that merely restricted the use of private property. In Northern Transportation Co. v. Chicago, 99 U.S. 635 (1879), the Court held that the city's construction

[ 458 U.S. Page 428]

     of a temporary dam in a river to permit construction of a tunnel was not a taking, even though the plaintiffs were thereby denied access to their premises, because the obstruction only impaired the use of plaintiffs' property. The Court distinguished earlier cases in which permanent flooding of private property was regarded as a taking, e. g., Pumpelly, supra, as involving "a physical invasion of the real estate of the private owner, and a practical ouster of his possession." In this case, by contrast, "[no] entry was made upon the plaintiffs' lot." 99 U.S., at 642.

Since these early cases, this Court has consistently distinguished between flooding cases involving a permanent physical occupation, on the one hand, and cases involving a more temporary invasion, or government action outside the owner's property that causes consequential damages within, on the other. A taking has always been found only in the former situation. See United States v. Lynah, 188 U.S. 445, 468-470 (1903); Bedford v. United States, 192 U.S. 217, 225 (1904); United States v. Cress, 243 U.S. 316, 327-328 (1917); Sanguinetti v. United States, 264 U.S. 146, 149 (1924) (to be a taking, flooding must "constitute an actual, permanent invasion of the land, amounting to an appropriation of, and not merely an injury to, the property"); United States v. Kansas City Life Ins. Co., 339 U.S. 799, 809-810 (1950).

In St. Louis v. Western Union Telegraph Co., 148 U.S. 92 (1893), the Court applied the principles enunciated in Pumpelly to a situation closely analogous to the one presented today. In that case, the Court held that the city of St. Louis could exact reasonable compensation for a telegraph company's placement of telegraph poles on the city's public streets. The Court reasoned:

"The use which the [company] makes of the streets is an exclusive and permanent one, and not one temporary, shifting and in common with the general public. The ordinary traveler, whether on foot or in a vehicle, passes to and fro along the streets, and his use and occupation

[ 458 U.S. Page 429]

     thereof are temporary and shifting. The space he occupies one moment he abandons the next to be occupied by any other traveller. . . . But the use made by the telegraph company is, in respect to so much of the space as it occupies with its poles, permanent and exclusive. It as effectually and permanently dispossesses the general public as if it had destroyed that amount of ground. Whatever benefit the public may receive in the way of transportation of messages, that space is, so far as respects its actual use for purposes of highway and personal travel, wholly lost to the public. . . .

". . . It matters not for what that exclusive appropriation is taken, whether for steam railroads or street railroads, telegraphs or telephones, the state may if it chooses exact from the party or corporation given such exclusive use pecuniary compensation to the general public for being deprived of the common use of the portion thus appropriated." Id., at 98-99, 101-102 (emphasis added).*fn6

Similarly, in Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 195 U.S. 540 (1904), a telegraph company constructed and operated telegraph lines over a railroad's right of way. In holding that federal law did not grant the company the right of eminent domain or the right to operate the lines absent the railroad's consent, the Court assumed that

[ 458 U.S. Page 430]

     the invasion of the telephone lines would be a compensable taking. Id., at 570 (the right-of-way "cannot be appropriated in whole or in part except upon the payment of compensation"). Later cases, relying on the character of a physical occupation, clearly establish that permanent occupations of land by such installations as telegraph and telephone lines, rails, and underground pipes or wires are takings even if they occupy only relatively insubstantial amounts of space and do not seriously interfere with the landowner's use of the rest of his land. See, e. g., Lovett v. West Va. Central Gas Co., 65 W. Va. 739, 65 S. E. 196 (1909); Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. v. Webb, 393 S. W. 2d 117, 121 (Mo. App. 1965). Cf. Portsmouth Harbor Land & Hotel Co. v. United States, 260 U.S. 327 (1922). See generally 2 J. Sackman, Nichols' Law of Eminent Domain § 6.21 (rev. 3d ed. 1980).*fn7

More recent cases confirm the distinction between a permanent physical occupation, a physical invasion short of an occupation, and a regulation that merely restricts the use of property. In United States v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256 (1946), the Court ruled that frequent flights immediately above a landowner's property constituted a taking, comparing such overflights to the quintessential form of a taking:

"If, by reason of the frequency and altitude of the flights, respondents could not use this land for any purpose, their loss would be complete. It would be as complete as if the United States had entered upon the surface of the land and taken exclusive possession of it." Id., at 261 (footnote omitted).

[ 458 U.S. Page 431]

     As the Court further explained,

"We would not doubt that, if the United States erected an elevated railway over respondents' land at the precise altitude where its planes now fly, there would be a partial taking, even though none of the supports of the structure rested on the land. The reason is that there would be an intrusion so immediate and direct as to subtract from the owner's full enjoyment of the property and to limit his exploitation of it." Id., at 264-265.

The Court concluded that the damages to the respondents "were not merely consequential. They were the product of a direct invasion of respondents' domain." Id., at 265-266. See also ...


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