At Colling Gilbert Wright, we are pleased to be adding a new area of practice to our already numerous practice areas: that of eminent domain. Our Florida eminent domain lawyers will help you protect what is legally yours.
What Is Eminent Domain?
Eminent domain is an old legal term for the seizing of personal property by a government, for public use. It originated in England’s Magna Carta (“Great Paper”), a group of documents in the English common law of 1215 which are a landmark in the history of democracy.
In the U.S., eminent domain was limited by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. This amendment, part of the Bill of Rights, seeks to protect each individual’s ability to protect himself, decreeing that no person can be tried twice by the same government on the same charge (double jeopardy) or be required to testify against himself (they can “plead the Fifth”), or:
“… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
The term just compensation means that if a government entity takes a person’s private property for public use, it must pay for it. Usually, fair market value has determined the amount owed.
What Constitutes Public Use?
Originally it referred to uses such as roads, police stations, or post offices. In recent decades, the U.S. government has allowed state governments to seize privately owned land on behalf of private developers for commercial development. In a 1981 case in Detroit known as the Poletown case (concerning an area with a large Polish population), the Michigan Supreme Court supported Detroit in seizing an area on behalf of General Motors, using the rationale that the plant they would build there would “create jobs” and increase Detroit’s tax base.
Although the Michigan Supreme Court overturned its own decision in 2004, this thinking was upheld in 2005 by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision.
- The majority opinion, by Justice Stevens, held that it was appropriate to allow a city government to take private land when its plan “will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including, but not limited to, new jobs and increased tax revenue.”
- The dissenting opinion by Justice O’Connor stated that “any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but . the beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process.”
In our view, the dissenting opinion made an accurate prediction. The meaning of the term public use has been expanded repeatedly, and governments have confiscated privately-owned land for the purposes of redistribution of wealth, for protection of supposedly threatened insects or animals, and other politically-motivated goals. Abuse of eminent domain has become rampant and we would like to offer legal assistance to anyone who might have been washed away by this tide.
Shouldn’t a Man’s Home Still Be His Castle?
Not to mention a person’s business, which is their source of income; or a family’s home which gives stability and security to their children. Why should any governments have “eminent domain” anyway? We think that a government should negotiate for private property it wants to buy, the same way anybody else would. If the owner does not want to sell, the government should look somewhere else for its land.
We are offering our legal services to anyone in Florida who has had private property taken against their will. If you have been pressured by government officials or even threatened with legal action if you don’t comply with the demand for your property, please contact us by calling (407) 712-7300 or filling out the form on this page. Attorneys for Colling Gilbert Wright will assess the circumstances and answer questions. If you appear to have a valid legal claim, we will begin building a case for you. You could be entitled to compensation for your loss.