Eminent Domain

It is important that property owners have knowledgeable attorneys to represent their interests

Eminent domain is the power of the government, either state or federal, to take private property and utilize is for public purposes. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that the government can only exercise eminent domain if just compensation is provided to the property owner. Nearly 150 years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the government may seize property through the use of eminent domain, so long as just compensation is appropriated for the owner of the property. The obligation of the government to provide just compensation is triggered even if the area taken by the government is very small, or if the government’s use does not greatly affect the owner’s economic interests. 

Eminent domain, in the federal context, has been utilized traditionally to facilitate transportation, supply water, construct public buildings, and aid in defense readiness.  Early federal cases condemned property for construction of public buildings and aqueducts to provide cities with drinking water, for maintenance of navigable waters, and for the production of war materials. Essentially, the government can take privately owned land for any purpose, so long as that purpose is for the public good.

The exercise of eminent domain is not limited to real property. Governments may also condemn personal property. Governments can even condemn intangible property such as contract rights, patents, trade secrets, and copyrights. Even the taking by a city of a professional sports team’s franchise has been held by the California Supreme Court to be within the purview of the “public use” constitutional limitation, although eventually, that taking was not permitted because it was deemed to violate the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

So, what happens if the government wants to take your property? Generally, the first thing they have to do is make an offer of just compensation. Often, the government and the property owner will attempt to negotiate a price. Sometimes the parties are able to agree on a price without involving the courts. But when the parties are unable to come to an agreement, litigation ensues. The government files an action in either a state or federal court against the property owner, and asks the Court to rule on the matter. 

In cases such as these, it is important that property owners have knowledgeable attorneys to represent their interests. Is the government trying to appropriate your property? Do you feel you aren’t being offered adequate compensation? Contact the real estate lawyers at Katz, Pryor & DiCuccio, LLP for a consultation today.