New DVD Guides Homeowners On How To Fight Eminent Domain Abuse

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June 6, 2007

Arlington, Va.—Homeowners and small business owners faced with eminent domain abuse will want to order a DVD released today by the Castle Coalition, a national grassroots organization that helps property owners from across the nation fight the use of eminent domain for private gain.

Not for Sale:  A Comprehensive Guide to Fighting Eminent Domain Abuse” is a live-action DVD and companion to the Castle Coalition’s popular “Eminent Domain Abuse Survival Guide.”  The two can be purchased together for $3.95 at www.ij.org/freedommarket.

Featuring interviews with property owners and activists from across the nation who have successfully battled eminent domain abuse, “Not for Sale” provides tips, tactics and practical advice for anyone waging their own grassroots battle to save their home or small business.  The fast-paced one-hour DVD employs cutting-edge graphics and illustrations along with interviews to explain to viewers how to gather information, build a coalition and engage in local activism.  The DVD instructs homeowners on how to hold a rally, create a website, work toward legislative reform and file a Freedom of Information Act request, among other topics.

“The DVD gives ordinary property owners everything they need to fight City Hall and save what is rightfully theirs,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Castle Coalition, who narrates the DVD.

2007 Eminent Domain Report Card

Some States Still Don’t Make the Grade

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June 6, 2007

Arlington, Va.—If your home is important to you—and whose home isn’t—you should read a report card released today that grades eminent domain reform legislation in all 50 states in the past two years.

The report was released by the Castle Coalition, a grassroots project of the Institute for Justice, which argued the Kelo eminent domain case before the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Castle Coalition examined and graded eminent domain laws for each of the 50 states over the past two years—since the Kelo decision allowing eminent domain for private gain.

“This report finds that your right to own your home free from the specter of eminent domain abuse depends on which state you live in,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Castle Coalition.  “States in the Northeast as well as California remain some of the biggest abusers of eminent domain and legislators in those states have so far refused to pass meaningful eminent domain reform despite the public’s overwhelming desire to be protected from eminent domain for private gain.”  The report is available at:  www.CastleCoalition.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=57&Itemid=113.

Among the states that passed the strongest reforms protecting property owners are Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota, each of which received an A or A- grade.  States that received F’s were:  Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.

“In only two years since Kelo, 41 states have reformed their laws to offer greater protection to small property owners,” said Jenifer Zeigler, legislative affairs attorney with the Castle Coalition.  “But much more work remains if homeowners, small business owners, churches and farmers are to be safe from the unholy alliance of tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers.”

The report seeks to step back and evaluate the legislative work that has been done and is left to do.  It finds, “Some states have passed model reforms that can serve as an example for others.  Some states enacted nominal reform—possibly because of haste, oversight or compromise—and need to know what is left to fix.  And finally, there are those states that have failed to act altogether, leaving home, farm and business owners threatened by Kelo-type takings and beyond.”

New Jersey Supreme Court Limits Bogus Blight Designations

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June 13, 2007

Arlington, Va.—Today, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously struck down an attempt by the Borough of Paulsboro to “blight” a vacant piece of property, holding that the fact that a piece of land is “not fully productive” cannot be used as a basis for including the property in a redevelopment area.

“This decision is very important for the hundreds of property owners in New Jersey fighting to save their homes and small businesses from eminent domain abuse,” said Scott Bullock, an Institute for Justice senior attorney who argued the Kelo v. City of New London case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 and who is representing homeowners in Long Branch, N.J., in an eminent domain case currently before New Jersey’s appellate court.  “The Court made it absolutely clear that the judiciary must play a vital role in reviewing bogus blight declarations by tax-hungry municipalities throughout the state.”  The Institute filed an amicus curiae brief in the Gallenthin v. Borough of Paulsboro case on the side of the property owner.

In its opinion, the Court warned of the danger of open-ended blight designations used by the Borough in this case and by many other municipalities throughout New Jersey:  “Under [the Borough’s] approach, any property that is operated in a less than optimal manner is arguably ‘blighted.’  If such an all-encompassing definition of ‘blight’ were adopted, most property in the State would be eligible for redevelopment.”

The opinion also contains some very helpful language to the homeowners fighting the condemnation of their properties in Long Branch.  In discussing the level of proof needed by governments in redevelopment cases, the Court declared:  “[A] municipality must establish a record that contains more than a bland recitation of applicable statutory criteria and a declaration that those criteria are met.  Because a redevelopment designation carries serious implications for property owners, the net opinion of an expert is simply too slender a reed on which to rest that determination.”

“In declaring a perfectly fine neighborhood ‘blighted,’ the City of Long Branch relied on the very type of bland, conclusory evidence that the Supreme Court in this case declares inadequate,” said Jeff Rowes, an Institute for Justice staff attorney who authored the Institute’s amicus brief in the Gallenthin case and who represents the Long Branch homeowners.  “The Court’s decision definitely strengthens our argument that Long Branch violated New Jersey law in taking the homes of long-time residents.”

“The New Jersey Supreme Court joins other state high courts, including Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Maryland, and Missouri, in starting to cut back on the abuse of eminent domain and redevelopment powers by local municpalities,” said Dana Berliner, an IJ senior attorney who argued the case at the Ohio Supreme Court.  In the wake of the Kelo decision, many state supreme courts are visiting these issues for the first time in decades and increasing judicial oversight of eminent domain.

Texas Governor Vetoes Eminent Domain Reform

All Texans Remain Vulnerable to Abuse

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June 18, 2007

Arlington, Va.—On Friday, June 15, 2007, Texas Governor Rick Perry vetoed HB 2006, an eminent domain reform measure that overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the Texas Legislature.  The bill was designed to close a loophole that remained from an earlier bill Perry signed two years ago in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Kelo v. City of New London decision.  Perry becomes only the fourth governor to veto an eminent domain bill since Kelo.  In the three other states, however, reform still passed when the Iowa Legislature overrode one veto, New Mexico’s executive signed other reform legislation this year and Arizona reformed its laws by citizen initiative.

“With this veto, Governor Perry has left every home, farm, ranch and small business owner vulnerable to the abuse of eminent domain,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Institute for Justice’s Castle Coalition, a national grassroots advocacy group committed to ending the private-to-private transfer of property using eminent domain.

The bill would have closed the large loophole that remained after the enactment of SB 7, the 2005 legislation that allows local authorities to forcibly acquire private property for the purpose of so-called “slum” or “blight” removal.  Under Texas law, the terms “slum” and “blight” are defined so broadly that they can be applied to any property, meaning no one’s property is safe.  HB 2006 required, with certain limited exceptions, that all takings be made for a “public use,” which would have stopped eminent domain abuse throughout the state.

HB 2006 also included procedural and compensation changes, and it was the latter that Perry cited as the reason for his veto.

“Compensation concerns were totally overblown by government agencies,” Anderson said.  “Comprehensive protection against eminent domain abuse for all Texans was scuttled because of unfounded fears that property acquisitions would cost substantially more.  Dollars drive the abuse, and now dollars drive this veto.  In both cases, the property owners are the ones who end up getting hurt.”

In all, 41 states have passed legislation responding to the Kelo decision.  For a review of those states and the effectiveness of the reforms, see the Institute for Justice’s 50-state report card, available at http://www.castletrans.wpengine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=57&Itemid=113.

Governor Vetoes New Eminent Domain Authority

Missouri Needs Eminent Domain Reform, Not Expansion

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July 6, 2007

Arlington, Va.—On Friday, July 6, 2007, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt vetoed HB 327, a one-hundred-forty-plus-page catalog of economic development programs that contains tax credits, training programs, alternative fuels incentives, ticket scalping laws, and a provision creating new eminent domain authority.

“It was disappointing when the General Assembly failed to improve on last year’s eminent domain reform, but the fact that they instead created new eminent domain authority is outrageous,” said Jenifer Zeigler, legislative affairs attorney for the Institute for Justice’s Castle Coalition, a national grassroots advocacy group committed to ending the private-to-private transfer of property using eminent domain.  “HB 327 would have been a step in the wrong direction.  We are pleased that the Governor had the courage to veto this bill.”

Last year’s HB 1944 was supposed to tackle Missouri’s rampant eminent domain abuse, brought to the general public’s attention two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Kelo v. City of New London decision.  Unfortunately, HB 1944 only protects farms from the state’s vague definition of “blight,” which allows municipalities to condemn virtually any neighborhood, then turn around and hand the property over to private developers.  Just last month, the Missouri Supreme Court handed down a bittersweet victory for property owners by throwing out a bogus blight condemnation on a technicality.  The court pointed out that even an office building in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the state could qualify as blight under the law’s broad definition and remarked on the General Assembly’s rejection of attempts to narrow that definition.

Instead, the legislature passed HB 327, with a provision that allows every city and county to create its own Regional Railroad Authority and new power to condemn property it determines “useful or convenient for railroad operations….” For over a century, railroads and highways have shared limited eminent domain authority.  HB 327 significantly expands that power and places it in the hands of a lot more people.

“It is disheartening that, instead of restricting Missouri’s epidemic eminent domain abuse, the legislature is expanding authority,” Zeigler said.  “And in an economic development bill, no less.  The Show-Me State desperately needs stronger property rights protections, not HB 327’s new condemnors.”

Of the 41 states that have passed legislation responding to the Kelo decision, Missouri’s reform is one of the weakest.  For a review of the states and the effectiveness of their reforms, see the Institute for Justice’s 50-state report card, available at http://www.castletrans.wpengine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=57&Itemid=113.

Eminent Domain Reform To Be Introduced in U.S. House of Representatives

Property Owners Still Left Unprotected from Federally Funded Abuses Two Years After Kelo

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July 12, 2007

Arlington, Va.—Today, Reps. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) will introduce the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2007 to stop taxpayer funding of eminent domain abuse. They will announce the bill at a press conference at 1 p.m. today in Room 2226 of the Rayburn House Office Building. This bipartisan bill would counter the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which allows governments to use eminent domain to seize private property on behalf of private developers in hopes of increasing tax revenue. The Act would deny for two fiscal years economic development funds to state and local governments that use eminent domain for private development.

In 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.R. 4128, the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2005, by a vote of 376 to 38. The bill was co-sponsored by representatives from across the political and ideological spectrum, including Reps. Waters, Sensenbrenner, John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), and Henry Bonilla (R-TX). Despite unprecedented bipartisan political and public support, the bill languished in the Senate Judiciary Committee and ultimately died.

“Federal protections from eminent domain abuse are long overdue,” said Bert Gall, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which argued the Kelo case on behalf of the homeowners. IJ and the Castle Coalition—a nationwide grassroots organization of property owners and activists dedicated to stopping eminent domain abuse—have led the fight to reform state and federal eminent domain laws. “Even though the vast majority of Americans oppose the abuse of eminent domain for private development, the federal government still funds that abuse.”

June 23 marked the two-year anniversary of the Kelo decision. In every poll since that ruling, the public is overwhelmingly against eminent domain for private use. Forty-two states have passed eminent domain reforms reining in the Kelo decision, including 10 states where voters passed ballot measures by wide margins in last year’s elections.

But many of those reforms are inadequate, and only Congress can stop the federal funding of eminent domain abuse.

“Your security in your home, business or church should not depend on your zip code,” said Dana Berliner, an IJ senior attorney. “The Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2007 strikes the right balance. It prevents Americans’ federal tax dollars from being used to kick them off their land for private development, while allowing federal money for traditional public uses like roads and post offices.”

Federal funds were used in the New London, Conn., project that took away the homes of Susette Kelo and her neighbors to replace them with private development, as well as many similar projects across the country.

“My battle started to save my little pink cottage, but it has rightfully grown into something much larger—the fight to restore the American Dream and the sacredness and security of each one of our homes,” said Susette Kelo. “Our federal tax dollars shouldn't be used to take away our homes and businesses so that developers can build shopping malls and condominiums.”

According to a new study using U.S. Census Data, eminent domain for private development falls hardest on the poor and minorities, just as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor warned it would in her Kelo dissent. “Victimizing the Vulnerable: The Demographics of Eminent Domain Abuse” was released by the Institute for Justice and is available at www.ij.org.

“Eminent domain abuse disproportionately targets the politically disenfranchised: the poor, less-educated and minorities,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Castle Coalition. “Unsurprisingly, tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers prey on those that are less likely to be able to defend themselves. It is vital that the federal government stop subsidizing this blatant abuse of power.”

Ohio Passes Weak Eminent Domain Reform, Property Owners Left Unprotected

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June 29, 2007

Arlington, Va.—The Ohio Legislature could have protected property owners across the state.  Instead, they passed some of the weakest eminent domain reform in the nation.

On Wednesday, June 27, the Ohio Senate passed a weakened version of Senate Bill 7.  The legislation originally offered substantial eminent domain reform to home and small business owners across the state, but the House removed all of the significant protections.  A companion measure, Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would have applied SB 7 to all local governments in Ohio, earlier failed to pass the House.  SB 7 now awaits the governor’s signature.

“There was a real chance for reform this year, but in the end, very little will change for home and small business owners in Ohio should SB 7 become law,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Institute for Justice’s Castle Coalition, a national grassroots advocacy group committed to ending the private-to-private transfer of property using eminent domain.  The Institute for Justice successfully defended homeowners in Norwood and Lakewood, Ohio, from eminent domain abuse.  Anderson testified before last year’s Eminent Domain Task Force and committees in both the Senate and House this session.

As originally passed by the Senate, SB 7 would have better-defined blight, using objective criteria to designate a “blighted parcel” and requiring at least 90 percent of the parcels in a neighborhood be blighted for the government to forcibly obtain non-blighted ones.  The weaker reforms passed by the legislature allow a combination of subjective—and likely impermissible under the state constitution—factors, such as age and obsolescence, dilapidation and deterioration, excessive density, faulty lot or street layout to be used by condemning authorities to take property for private gain.  The final version of SB 7 does include better notice for property owners when their land is under threat, as well as procedural and compensation changes, but they will do little to prevent perfectly fine property from actually being taken.

“Real protections against eminent domain abuse were whittled away,” Anderson said.  “While the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously ruled, just one year ago in Norwood v. Horney, that the right to property is fundamental, the Legislature unfortunately doesn’t share that conclusion.  I have no doubt that Ohioans will continue to make their case until their representatives finally listen.”

In all, 40 other states have passed legislation responding to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo v. City of New London decision.  For a review of those states and the effectiveness of the reforms, see the Institute for Justice’s 50 state report card, available at http://www.castletrans.wpengine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=57&Itemid=113.

New Guide to Help Spanish Speakers Save Their Homes and Businesses

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August 23, 2007

para leer en español

Arlington, Va.—Spanish-speaking communities across the country now have access to the most effective strategies to fight eminent domain abuse—the forcible acquisition of property by the government for private development.  The Castle Coalition’s new Spanish language version of its popular—and award-winning—Eminent Domain Abuse Survival Guide, the Manual de Supervivencia contra el Uso Abusivo del Dominio Eminente, provides Spanish speakers with the same strategies and tactics that home and small business owners nationwide have used for years with great success to keep what they own.

The Manual de Supervivencia is especially useful in explaining the concept of eminent domain abuse, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled was constitutional two years ago in Kelo v. City of New London.  This translation helps navigate threatened property owners through the eminent domain process, giving readers the tools they need to fight back.  In addition, it provides Spanish speakers with the English vocabulary they will encounter as they defend their property.  The Manual de Supervivencia is available at www.castletrans.wpengine.com/Espanol.

“In the past, the Spanish-speaking population has had limited access to the vital information necessary to save their homes and small businesses from eminent domain abuse,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Institute for Justice’s Castle Coalition.  “With the Manual de Supervivencia, those days are now over.” 

This publication is particularly timely because many of the states that received low or failing grades in the Castle Coalition’s 50 State Report Card have large Spanish-speaking populations, like New York, New Jersey and California.  Additionally, as Justice O’Connor predicted in the Kelo decision and as the Institute for Justice’s Victimizing the Vulnerable: The Demographics of Eminent Domain has proved, minorities remain the most likely victims of eminent domain abuse.  The Manual de Supervivencia is yet another tool to empower the politically weak against the strength of local governments. 

“With this translation, we are not only providing a new tool for home and small business owners facing the abuse of eminent domain, we are moving ever closer to ending the practice altogether,” Anderson concluded.

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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