Stop Government Abuses of Eminent Domain
Private Abuse of Eminent Domain Powers
Eminent domain is sometimes abused by corrupt governments as a way to grant special privileges to private corporations. This shocking, immoral, corrupt behavior is becoming more common. Thankfully, someone is standing up and challenging it. See these excerpts from a recent UPI article.
by Pat TaylorA small landowner who claims his city government illegally took away his private property is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if it is legal for the government to use its power of eminent domain to condemn a piece of private property, then transfer the property to another private property owner for development purposes.
The court is scheduled to decide on April 12 if it will accept the case for review.
According to a supplemental brief filed March 25 on behalf of the landowner, state and local courts need guidance from the highest court in the land because in recent years thousands of court cases throughout the country have dealt with variations of this issue, resulting in a "growing number of conflicting rulings in different jurisdictions."
Moshe Tal is a small Oklahoma City developer who became a local hero for his efforts in helping rescue workers during the 1995 Murrah Building bombing and again during the city's devastating tornado of May 3, 1999.
In 1995, Tal submitted plans to the city for a $160 million commercial development on five acres of prime downtown property owned by his company, Tal Technologies Inc. The property is located on the edge of the man-made Bricktown Canal, fashioned after San Antonio's Riverwalk.
According to reports at the time, the city loved the idea.
But in 1997 the city condemned the choicest 1.4 acres fronting the canal, saying it was needed for public parking, parks and recreational facilities as part of its 1993 Master Plan -- even though the property had never been included in the master plan. The city offered TTI only $50,000 for the condemned property, which Tal says is worth more than $5 million.
Tal took the city to court, but the trial court said the city had the right under its eminent domain powers to condemn private property for "public use."
The city then transferred ownership of the parcels to the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority, which in July of 1998 made plans to sell the property to Randy Hogan, a prominent businessman and rival developer, for $165,000.
In 1999, Tal says he discovered documents confirming what he had suspected for some time -- that Hogan intends to develop the property for restaurants and private retail businesses, the same use that was intended by TTI.
"They even copied our development plans!" charges Tal. "The city has never said that it was taking TTI's land for private profiteering by a private developer or for any restaurant or retail shops. I don't believe it was the intent of the framers of the Constitution or the writers of the eminent domain laws to give any governmental body the power to be in the business of making profit from condemned properties, or to use such power in taking private property from one landowner, and giving it to another private person or entity of their choice for the latter to profit from such transaction."
Tal went back to court, charging that the city had misrepresented its true intentions to the trial court by actually taking the land with public powers for transfer to a private land developer. TTI alleged that the city's stated reasons for the taking were false and deceptive, and that the city had engaged in fraudulent activities.
The trial court, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals and the state Supreme Court, denied Tal's appeal based on technicalities.
Oklahoma City Attorney Jerry Fent declined to comment for this article, saying the city does not comment on pending legal cases. Available court documents show that the city did not respond to Tal's allegations, and although Tal argued vigorously that the city's actions had violated his constitutional rights to "just compensation" and "due process" under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, the state courts completely ignored these constitutional issues. Tal is hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the case on its merits.
Tal's request to the Supreme Court was docketed on Feb. 7, 2002. He claims his Oklahoma City-based attorneys quit after being either threatened or "bought" by the city's power brokers, who he believes hatched the land-grab scheme against him.
On March 25, attorney F. Patricia Callahan, president of the Washington DC-based American Association of Small Property Owners, filed a supplemental brief on newly developed issues in Tal's behalf.
If the Supreme Court accepts the case for review, chances are good that TTI will be represented by the Institute for Justice, a non-profit organization which has recently won several similar cases in state courts.
In one case, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the City of Stanford had acted improperly in condemning property that was not part of an earlier redevelopment plan. In another, the same court ruled that the City of Bridgeport was unreasonable in failing to consider integration of the Pequonnock Yacht Club's property into the city's redevelopment plans, and, therefore, the taking of the property by eminent domain was not necessary -- just as, Callahan argues, Oklahoma City failed to consider integrating TTI's original development plans into its Master Plan.
According to Callahan, several other private property rights organizations have also expressed intentions to file amicus curiae briefs on TTI's behalf if the Supreme Court accepts Tal's case.
Pat Taylor is a writer and research analyst specializing in environmental and land use issues.
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