NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Courts Reining In Eminent Domain Abuses

July 23, 2001

In more than a half-dozen recent rulings, state and federal courts have cracked down on cities which have tried to seize private property through inappropriate application of eminent domain powers.

While the U.S. Constitution allows governments to take private property for "public use," cities have strayed so far as to transfer property from one business to another in the name of redevelopment.

Among the cases in which courts found that cities had gone too far:

  • A Pennsylvania appeals court in February blocked the condemnation of a steel-fabrication plant for a hotel-office developer on the ground that a local redevelopment authority had improperly delegated its public powers to the developer.
  • A federal judge in Manhattan issued a temporary order in February blocking Port Chester, N.Y., from condemning rental property in favor of a grocery-store parking lot under a state law that allows a newspaper ad to serve as notice to owners that their property could be taken.
  • The Mississippi Supreme Court in May issued a stay blocking condemnation of a huge tract to make way for a Nissan Motor Co. plant, saying that redevelopment authorities may be taking land "substantially in excess of the immediate needs of the public use."

The new-found barriers to eminent domain abuses could affect thousands of takings cases filed around the country each year. For example, 1,090 eminent domain cases were filed by cities and redevelopment authorities in California alone last year.

Source: Dean Starkman, "More Courts Rule Cities Misapply Eminent Domain," Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2001.

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