Reform Sprouts Up in the Garden State as New Jersey Courts Trim Down Eminent Domain

court.jpgBesides being one of the worst eminent domain abusers in the nation, New Jersey currently has no form of eminent domain reform on the books. Given that, the state got a well-deserved “F” in our 50-State Report Card.  Before 2007, local municipalities could invoke eminent domain on properties they deemed, usually without the need for much evidence, “underutilized”.  Last year, however, the New Jersey courts finally set a few minor limits on the rampant abuse of eminent domain:


In June, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided Gallenthin v. Paulsboro, which prevents cities from seizing land solely because it is underutilized.  The decision also contains a minimum standard for the “substantial evidence” test, required to designate “blight.”  Within two months, three lower courts have taken the supreme court’s decision and applied it to decisions—all favoring property owners.

The borough of Paulsboro wanted to seize a mostly undeveloped 63-acre property owned by the Gallenthin family along the Delaware River to redevelop the borough’s waterfront.  Much of the land is state-designated protected wetlands, but the rest has been used as a site for dredging and growing cattle feed.  Despite the activity and protected status, the borough declared the Gallenthins’ property blighted solely because it was underutilized.  The New Jersey Supreme Court found fault with Paulsboro’s argument for the taking, saying any property could be taken because a city said it was underutilized.


Since Gallenthin, three lower courts across the state have cited the decision in ruling against municipalities that have declared, incorrectly, properties “in need of redevelopment.”  In each case, the municipality failed to meet minimum standards of evidence showing that those areas were actually “in need of redevelopment.” 


Full article here.