(CN) – Property owners in San Diego County waited too long to sue the government for allegedly commandeering their land near the Mexican border to patrol for illegal immigrants, the Court of Federal Claims ruled. However, the court held the government liable for its installation and use of 14 underground motion detectors.
In 1992, Rancho Vista del Mar granted the Border Patrol a 20-foot-wide easement along the border to conduct surveillance. But the government allegedly ramped up its operations in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, so much so that property owners accused it of engaging in the “permanent and exclusive occupation” of 11 parcels of border property.
“The Border Patrol’s activity allegedly consisted of patrolling the subject property outside the boundaries of the easement on foot and in vehicles 24 hours per day,” Judge Wheeler explained, “assuming stationary positions at various points on the parcels from which they monitored and responded to illegal alien activity, creating new roads without plaintiffs’ permission, installing underground motion-detecting sensors, and constructing a permanent tented structure from which agents would wait and respond to radio calls from station headquarters.”
Rancho Vista del Mar, Otay Mesa Property and Otay International filed a Fifth Amendment takings claim against the government in March 2006. Two more property owners, International Industrial Property and D&D Landholdings, filed separate actions after the district court denied their motion to join the previous lawsuit. The cases were later consolidated.
The claims court determined that the plaintiffs’ claims accrued between 1996 and 1999, well before the six-year statute of limitations.
However, the government admitted to having installed 14 underground motion sensors on the plaintiffs’ property without their knowledge or consent. The sensors are about one cubic foot in size, with a foot-long antenna above ground, and can detect motion 30 feet in each direction.
As a result, the plaintiffs are entitled to a judgment of partial liability “for the physical taking of an easement due to the use of motion-detecting sensors on five of the 11 parcels, as stipulated by Defendant,” Wheeler concluded.