Lost Trail, LLC v. Town of Weston
A final and authoritative determination from local administrators is a prerequisite to asserting a regulatory takings claim. Lost Trail, LLC purchased two adjacent parcels of property in Weston and recorded a map on the land records purportedly adjusting the boundaries. Thereafter, Lost Trail recorded maps dividing each parcel into two lots of more than two acres. The town zoning enforcement officer and engineer signed the maps stamped to indicate that the plan was neither a subdivision nor resubdivision and could be recorded without prior approval of the planning and zoning commission. Lost Trail mortgaged the property considering it effectively divided into four lots. Barry Hawkins, special counsel to Weston, notified Lost Trail's counsel and town officials that subdivision approval was needed as the lot line adjustments were an obvious attempt to circumvent subdivision by-laws. Lost Trail was advised to apply for subdivision approval or if it applied for building permits, that it could appeal from the denial. Instead, Lost Trail commenced this action asserting federal and state law claims. The matter was removed to the District Court which dismissed federal causes of action for lack of ripeness and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims. The state trial court then granted Weston's motions to dismiss the remaining claims. Lost Trail appealed contending, inter alia, that the court erred by dismissing its regulatory takings claim for failure to obtain a final administrative decision. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The rationale for requiring a final and authoritative determination from local administrators as a prerequisite to asserting a regulatory takings claim was well illustrated here. Lost Trail could only speculate if the commission would have agreed with Hawkins or permitted development on all or some lots. Without that baseline, a court could not determine if a taking occurred, and, if so, what compensation was due. Lost Trail argued that its use of the property so obviously did not constitute a subdivision that the commission's involvement was gratuitous. Strength of unilateral conviction was not a substitute for a final administrative decision. Lost Trail's futility argument was rejected. A declaratory judgment count was properly dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies and the claims were mooted by the loss of the properties to foreclosure. A municipal estoppel claim was not ripe.