My Property Exam Question #2 – Ayn Rand, Howard Roark, and Regulatory Takings

December 13th, 2012

I wrote four exam questions for my two sections Property II. Here is the second question. Feel free to take a stab at the answer in the comments.

Instructions: You are an associate at a law firm. Your lazy partner, who is quite short on time, asks you to prepare a memorandum of no more than 500 words addressing a situation affecting your client, Ayn. You are in a jurisdiction that, for the most part, adopts the rules of the Restatement (First) of Property, but is gradually moving towards the Restatement (Third) of Property. The jurisdiction has a “Notice” recording statute.  Here are all the facts. If you draw any inferences beyond these facts, please explain why you drew those inferences.

Ayn is the high priestess in the order of the Randiologists, a religiously atheistic group that steadfastly believes in the sanctity and perfection of the individual. Ayn sought to open a temple of reason in the community of Staten’s Gulch. A core element of the Randiologist’s faith is to “detox” people of collectivist evils through therapy and counseling sessions. The treatment consists of berating patients while forcing them to balance heavy globes on their shoulders until they finally break down, mentally and physically, so that they are ready to receive the Gospel of Ayn.

Ayn chose Blackacre as an ideal location to build her house of worship. Adjacent to Blackacre was Whiteacre, which Ayn determined would be an ideal location for the therapy center. Both Blackacre and Whiteacre were located in a residential community of Staten’s Gulch, though there were several churches and mosques in the area.

First, Ayn entered into negotiations with Boark who lived on Blackacre. Boark told Ayn that he owned the land in fee simple, and that there were no encumbrances on his title. Ayn goes to the county record office and performs a title search, but cannot find Boark’s name in the index. Boark insists that he owns the property, and offers Ayn a general warranty deed. Ayn accepts his offer, and pays $100,000 for Blackacre. Ayn records the deed for Blackacre the same day.

Second, Ayn entered into negotiations with Cagny who stated that she was the owner of Whiteacre. Ayn goes to the records hall, and sees Cagny’s name in the chain of title for Whiteacre. Cagny told Ayn that Whiteacre had a restrictive covenant on it that limited the use to “medical purposes.” Ayn agreed, and purchased Whiteacre from Cagny for $50,000. Cagny accepted the money for Whiteacre, but never delivered the deed to Ayn. Ayn entered Whiteacre the same day.

The clerk in Staten’s Gulch is quite sloppy. The reasons that Ayn could not locate Boark’s name in the index is that the clerk had accidentally recorded the entry as “Roark” instead of “Boark.” Had she looked under “Roark,” Ayn would have seen that there was a restrictive covenant on Blackacre that said: “the said property is hereby restricted to the use and occupancy by any persons who believe in God.” Second, Cagny did not own Whiteacre. Though the clerk mistakenly wrote “Cagny” in the record, she should have written the name of the actual owner, “Dagny.”

Still unaware of the clerk’s errors, Ayn hired Dominique as an architect to build her temple and treatment center. Dominique, most famous for designing a gas station in the desert, drew up plans for a grandiose temple dedicated to the human spirit, with the walls painted gold, capped off by a two-hundred foot tall spire as a testament to the power of human productivity. In front of the temple was a 30-foot gold-plated nude statue of Ayn, wearing only a dollar sign necklace. Compared to the rest of the neighborhood, which was mostly small, brick homes, the intimidating golden tower and striking statue stood out.

Ayn submitted the plan to build the temple and the treatment center to the City Planning Commission, led by Mayor Ellsworth. Repulsed by Ayn and her godless atheists being selfish in his backyard, Elsworth hastily signs into law a number of land-use and zoning ordinances in rapid succession. The first ordinance amended the zoning code such that medical facilities could not be built within 500 feet of a house of worship, finding that worshippers seeing sick people diminishes the religious experience. The second ordinance amended the zoning code to cap the maximum height of all buildings at 75 feet, citing potential fire hazards of tall structures. The third ordinance amended the zoning code so that all non-residential buildings must be “harmonious with the surrounding structures” and “aesthetically pleasing.” The fourth ordinance banned all displays of “public nudity” within 500 feet of any house of worship.

Ayn was incensed (as she often is) when she learned about the city’s new ordinances. Begrudgingly, she submitted a revised plan, lowering the towers to 70-feet, and changing the gold paint to a brick facade, so the temple conformed with the neighborhood. She refused to move her treatment center, proclaiming that the “detox” process was a core attribute of her beliefs, and need to be attached to the temple. Ayn also refused to cover up her statue. Ellsworth denied the request, and insisted that Ayn make her temple resemble the character of the other buildings on the block. Ayn shrugged, and resigned herself to challenging Ellsworth’s decisions in court.

To make matters worse, when Roark learns of Ayn’s plans, he filed a motion to oust Ayn from Blackacre claiming he is the rightful owner. Roark, a devout Catholic, also filed suit against Ayn to enforce the covenant on Blackacre. Likewise, Dagny files a motion to oust Ayn from Whiteacre claiming she is the rightful owner. Dagny, who doubts that Ayn’s questionable “treatment” qualifies as “medical,” files suit against Ayn to enforce the covenant on Whiteacre.

What are Ayn’s best defenses against Roark and Dagny? What causes of action, if any, does Ayn have against Boark, Cagny, and Elsworth?