On Monday, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in the case of Lech v. Jackson. The question presented to the Court: is there a categorical “police powers” exception to the Fifth Amendment’s Just Compensation Clause?
Lech v. Jackson involved a police chase of a shoplifter who broke into the home of Leo and Alfonsia Lech in an attempt to hide and escape. After the criminal fired at the police, they responded by blowing the doors off the Lech’s house, shooting holes through their walls and windows, launching gas canisters, and driving a tank-like vehicle called a “BearCat” mounted with a battering ram through their home. The shoplifter was caught, but the Lechs' house lay in ruins.
When the Lechs sought compensation for the destruction of their property, the federal district court and Tenth Circuit both denied them compensation because the house was destroyed pursuant to the police powers, rather than the eminent domain power. The Lechs petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari, arguing that a police powers’ exception to just compensation is unlawful.
This issue has important implications for the protection of property rights and the extent to which governments have to pay for damages inflicted by law enforcement officers in the discharge of their lawful duties. Although the Supreme Court denied cert in the Lech case, this issue is not likely to go away soon. And it remains to be seen if the Supreme Court will address this growing exception to the Just Compensation Clause in a future case.
To hear more about this interesting case and the important legal issues presented by it, check out the Federalist Society’s Teleforum, “Is There a ‘Police Powers’ Exception to the Fifth Amendment’s Just Compensation Clause?”