Missouri Dentist Fights to Save His Business From Eminent Domain Abuse At the State Supreme Court

From the Institute for Justice:

Sugar Creek Women Travel Across the State

For Argument that Could Determine Their Homes’ Fate

Arlington, VA-Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m., the Supreme Court of Missouri will hear arguments in a case that will determine whether eminent domain will continue to be abused in more than 600 cities throughout the state.

The case concerns the fate of Homer Tourkakis, a dentist from Arnold-a suburb of St. Louis-whose offices have been condemned so private developers can build big-box stores. Last year, a judge ruled in favor of Dr. Tourkakis and dismissed the land grab as unconstitutional.

“Missouri cities are among the worst abusers of eminent domain in the nation,” said Institute for Justice (IJ) Senior Attorney Scott Bullock, the lawyer who argued the landmark eminent domain case, Kelo v. New London, at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. Bullock filed a brief in the Missouri Supreme Court on behalf of IJ and the newly appointed state eminent domain ombudsman, Anthony Martin. “This case is very important to home and small business owners throughout Missouri.”

The specific issue in this case is what type of Missouri city has the power to use eminent domain in so-called blighted areas. A state law dating from the 1940s permits only larger, mostly urban cities to engage in “slum clearance,” which often has had disastrous results. Now, however, small municipalities across the state use eminent domain not to remove blight, but so cities can collect higher taxes through private development projects that displace the rightful property owners.

Virginia Marth, a lifelong Missourian now in her 80s, will travel across the state with her daughter, Penelope, to attend the argument. Virginia’s childhood home, built by her father, is located in Sugar Creek, a suburb of Kansas City. Sugar Creek planners are threatening to seize Virginia’s home, which has been in the family since the 1920s and is where Penelope currently lives, so a private developer can build a big-box shopping center.

“I want to keep our home in our family,” said Virginia, who was born in the house. “It is simply wrong to take the home that means so much to us just so a wealthy developer can make even more money.”

Eleanor Miller, a widow who has lived in her Sugar Creek home for more than 45 years and also faces condemnation, will join Virginia and Penelope at the argument.

“If the city of Arnold wins, the consequences will be disastrous for all Missourians,” said IJ Senior Attorney Bert Gall, one of the authors of IJ’s brief. “A bad decision will make countless Missourians completely vulnerable to government-sanctioned land grabs for the benefit of private developers.”

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