It’s an old saying, but it’s true in life and in court, as illustrated in a recent takings decision, Town of Ponce Inlet v. Pacetta, LLC, et al. The Town appealed “a multi-million-dollar” judgment on an inverse condemnation claim. Like most takings cases, this one has a long and confusing history.

The property owners had purchased ten adjoining parcels, seeking to develop a waterfront project. The Town, however, amended its comprehensive land use plan, leaving the property owners unable to develop the ten parcels as contemplated.

First Lawsuit

The property owners sued the Town, challenging the amended comprehensive land use plan. The property owners successfully argued, at both trial and on appeal, that the ten parcels should be treated as a single 16 acre parcel.

Second Lawsuit

The property owners then sought damages from the Town for inverse condemnation, among other theories. They claimed that each of the ten parcels was taken by the Town’s regulations, which prevented the development of the waterfront project. The trial court found a taking of four of the ten parcels. The trial court, however, did not find a taking for the other six parcels. The court also ruled that the property owners were entitled to damages under claims for violation of equal protection and due process rights. Following the Town’s appeal, a jury awarded $30,775,248.29 against the Town. That’s thirty Million (with a capital “M”)!

The Town’s Appeal

The Town appealed, and that’s where things got interesting. The Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the $30,775,248.29 jury verdict. Why? Because the property owners, in the first suit, had successfully argued the ten parcels were actually one 16 acre parcel, they could not in the second suit reverse their position and say they had ten parcels.

What’s the Legal Scoop?

It’s important to recognize that, yes, actions do speak louder than words. This is especially important to remember in land use and takings litigation, where owners may be making filings—taking actions— in several different proceedings. Those “actions” can end up speaking louder than words because the filings in one proceeding may bind an owner in another proceeding. Like chess, once you take your hand off the piece, you’re committed, so think several moves ahead so that your preliminary “actions” will speak well for you later in the proceedings, also.