Supreme Court rules against exorbitant government fees for building permits

George Sheetz at his home in El Dorado County. Photo credit: Pacific Legal Foundation.

It’s the 18th victory at the Supreme Court for the Pacific Legal Foundation. A decision announced Friday was also a victory for property owners.

The case involved a California man who wanted to put a small manufactured house on a rural vacant lot, where he and his wife could raise their grandson. He was slapped with a $23,000 traffic mitigation fee by the local El Dorado County in 2016.

George Sheetz challenged the fee and said it was unconstitutional.

The justices were unanimous in their decision in Sheetz v. El Dorado County, saying that government fees must have a “roughly proportional” to the impact that the proposed action is likely to have.

The Court held that fees also known as “legislative exactions” must satisfy the doctrine of unconstitutional conditions — meaning they must be closely related and proportional to any adverse public impacts caused by development and no more, Pacific Legal Foundation explained.

The county’s argument was that Sheetz was required to pay the fee to address existing and future road deficiencies.

“Holding building permits hostage in exchange for excessive development fees is obviously extortion,” said Paul Beard, partner at Pierson Ferdinand and co-counsel in the case. “We are thrilled that the Court agreed and put a stop to a blatant attempt to skirt the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against taking private property without just compensation.” 

“Thus, the County imposed the fee without any evidence tying George’s new home to any specific public costs or impacts,” the nonprofit legal group said.

The Court returned the case to the Ninth Circuit to determine if $23,000 is “an exaction subject to the unconstitutional conditions doctrine. If so, the lower court must determine whether the fee was disproportionate to the traffic impact caused by a modest manufactured home in a rural area, and thus, unconstitutional,” Pacific Legal Foundation explained.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote in the opinion: “In sum, there is no basis for affording property rights less protection in the hands of legislators than administrators. The Takings Clause applies equally to both—which means that it prohibits legislatures and agencies alike from imposing unconstitutional conditions on land-use permits.” 


  1. Saddest part is court even finds it necessary to reign in bureaucrats on issues like this. Traffic mitigation fees, if needed, should apply pro rata to all existing and proposed houses in the neighborhoods. Then, the bureaucrats would need to answer to everyone rather than bullying just a few trying build new homes. Government out of control.

  2. Yes, I And from the government and here to help the words, nobody wants to hear.
    The government isn’t helping anybody except for helping themselves to everybody’s money.

    • Mark, that is because government, at the most fundamental level, is really nothing more than institutionalized coercion. Is coercion really the foundation upon which we want to base our society? I support liberty instead.

      • “The legitimate object of government is ‘to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves’.” – Abraham Lincoln.

        Whatever in your upbringing has made you such a cynical person, Jefferson?

        • “Government is not eloquence, it is not reason, it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant, and a fearful master.” — George Washington

          Whatever in your upbringing has made you such an ignorant, arrogant and gullible person, Hans?

        • Hans, Governments historically have been the chief enemy of the peoples lives, liberty and happiness.

          Our founders understood the above but at the same time understood that Governments were necessary only to bring order and structure. Accordingly they crafted the Constitution which limited the Government while at the same time giving recognition to the plenary freedom to the several States and the People.

          Governments are a necessary evil , and like fire must be managed lest they become all consuming.

  3. Wonder how many fees are being exacted by our Municipality of Anchorage that could fall under this ruling?

    • 4 sales taxes passed that are illegal under the municipal charter and outrageous property taxes stolen from property owners that do little to benefit those paying the taxes. Now the assembly is attemtping to pass a 3% sales tax to futher indenture the property owner.

  4. Judicial activism, even when it produces a result I like, is still judicial activism. Last time I read the Constitution, issues such as this should be decided by the people’s elected representatives in state and local governments, not federal courts.

    • In a working three-branch political system, the judicial side properly protects citizens, such as this, who live under a one-sided political cabal who otherwise would do nothing on their own to correct unfair actions such as these.

  5. This is a good ruling. I know of a corrupt, local government that:

    1. Imposes fees of over $25,000.00, per home, for new construction.
    2. Does not allow a property owner to disturb as much as 90% of their own property.

    These sorts of rules, imposed by corrupt governments need to be reined in. Local governments are parasitic in natural.

  6. In a free country, one does not have to beg for permission to do things on your own property, much less pay extortionist fees for that permission.
    Too bad we no longer live in a free country.

  7. Another unanimous SCOTUS decision on property rights. As much as the left wants us to believe there is a fractured SCOTUS, the steady stream of unanimous decisions prove them wrong each and every time. This is our judicial system at work, this is how our Constitution was designed, we are a nation of laws and the rule of law prevails yet again. All the American haters are once again proven wrong.

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