Mississippi Supreme Court Strengthens
Pre-Condemnation Rights of Property Owners
Fred Lemon owned two lots along U.S. Highway 90 that he leased to two businesses, Ocean Springs Pawn & Jewelry and Bayou Sporting Goods. The Mississippi Transportation Commission (MTC) condemned both properties for a highway expansion project in August 1997. An amendment to the state eminent domain statute that had just passed in July 1997 granted MTC a right to immediate possession of Lemon’s properties. Under the new law, Lemon had no opportunity to challenge the public use of the taking before the MTC took possession. MTC did not even serve Lemon with notice of the condemnation until a week after it had occurred. Lemon challenged the taking by arguing that the revised statute violated his due process rights, but the trial court ruled in favor of MTC. In March 1999, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed on grounds that the Mississippi Constitution mandates that the condemnor meet the burden of proof on the issue of public use before private property may be taken through eminent domain. The statute as it was written allows the property to be seized first, with a public use showing only required in cases where the owner challenges the taking after the fact, when title has already passed to the condemnor.1
1 See Lemon v. Mississippi Transportation Commission, 735 So. 2d 1013, 1023 (Miss. 1999).