Tag: condemnation blight

More on Columbia’s Abuse of Property Rights

Six weeks ago, Cato filed an amicus brief supporting a challenge to Columbia University’s strong-armed attempt to condemn and take over certain land in Upper Manhattan.  Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will consider the cert petition our brief supports, with a decision on whether it hears the case expected Monday.

In what is probably not a coincidence, then, the Columbia Spectator today came out with a lengthy feature story examining the story behind the dispute, controversial “blight” designations and all.  This is excellent student journalism – heck, excellent journalism, period – and here are some key excerpts (full disclosure: the author interviewed me for the piece):

Since it proposed the expansion, Columbia has rapidly made deals with property owners and gained control over nearly every lot in the zone – except for two who have fought to hold on to their land….

And Columbia has repeatedly said that those parcels, which represent a total of around nine percent of the expansion zone, are vital to the vision. 

Eminent domain – the process by which the state seizes private property for the “public good,” providing just compensation for the owner – officially came into the picture in 2004, when the University asked the state to consider condemnation.

And here’s the crux of the legal dispute:

Some neighborhood tenants and owners – most no longer in Manhattanville as Columbia continues to break ground and demolish properties – have strongly contested this blight label.

Nuss remembers a community vibrant enough to support his improvisational group – the No-Neck Blues Band – local businesses, and his family. He raised his daughter in the Hint House….

But it’s sometimes hard to believe Nuss is talking about the same area as other residents who say they agree with the determination of blight….

This disparity in views on Manhattanville’s conditions touches upon a fundamental question when evaluating the process that paved the way for Columbia’s expansion: Was the neighborhood really blighted, and given the process by which the criteria of blight were determined, was the state’s designation of blight an appropriate justification for the use of eminent domain for a private university?

My sense is that whatever ”blight” there is was caused by Columbia itself:

“It’s akin to the kid who kills his parents and begs the court’s mercy for being an orphan,” says Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow with the Cato Institute, which filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the Manhattanville property owners. “You’re creating your own blight. It doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Read the whole thing.

Supreme Court Lets Eminent Domain Abuse Continue

Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided not take up an important takings case, the infelicitously titled 480.00 Acres of Land v. United States. As I blogged previously, Cato filed an amicus brief in the case in the hopes that the owner of the “480.00 Acres of Land,” Gil Fornatora, would ultimately receive the “just compensation” to which he is constitutionally entitled.  The Court also missed the chance to correct the pattern of due process abuse that is apparently rampant in Florida.  The case involved the federal government maneuvering to unjustly drive down property values before taking land for (legitimate) public use – in this case expanding the Everglades – thus greatly diminishing the compensation it was obligated to pay the owners.  Fox News recently had a report about the case, in which I briefly appeared.

Interestingly – and sadly – since the Fox News report, my voicemail and email inbox has been receiving story after story of individuals who have experienced injustices similar to that of Mr. Fornatora. While it is unfortunate that this case has come to an end, the number of calls and emails leads me to believe that more cases like this will be making their way through the federal judiciary and that, eventually, this abuse will be halted.

To that end, while Cato does not involve itself directly in litigation, on the subject of takings and eminent domain abuse I can certainly recommend our friends at the Institute for Justice and Pacific Legal Foundation.  Specifically on the type of “condemnation blight” at the heart of the Fornatora case, feel free to contact PLF’s Atlantic (Florida) office at (772)781-7787 or write to Pacific Legal Foundation, 1002 SE Monterey Commons Blvd., Suite 102, Stuart, FL  34996.  Steven Gieseler was the attorney who presented the Fornatora case to the Supreme Court, and who got me involved.

In other eminent domain news, George Will had an excellent column on January 3 condemning the pernicious Atlantic Yards land grab that you can read about here.

A Special Kind of Eminent Domain Abuse

In federal eminent domain cases, the “scope of the project” rule requires that in determining “just compensation” under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, any increase or decrease in property value caused by the federal project be disregarded.  As it turns out, the federal government had discussed the idea of expanding Everglades National Park for over 30 years, and also induced the local government to enact tougher zoning standards that decreased the value of the property that was to be taken for this purpose.  This type of behavior is a special kind of eminent domain abuse called “condemnation blight.”

The Everglades-related federal actions forced Gilbert Fornatora to watch the value of his South Florida property decline until the federal government finally condemned it – and paid him much lower compensation than he would otherwise have received.  Then, once condemnation proceedings began, the government manipulated the hearing schedule by front-loading ill-prepared owners who lacked counsel, thereby setting a low valuation precedent that would then be applied to the later parties with representation, like Fornatora.  The Eleventh Circuit sided with the government, so Fornatora petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case.

Cato filed an amicus brief supporting this petition, arguing that property owners have virtually no “scope of the project” protection if they must prove that the government’s sole or primary purpose for pre-condemnation action was to depress property values for later eminent domain proceedings.  A more workable test, consistent with due process, is merely to require evidence of a nexus between the government’s actions and the depressed property value.  The Court should also hear this case to ensure that just compensation proceedings comport with the due process, equal protection, and general fairness standards the government is required to follow in a variety of other settings.

The Court will be deciding early in the new year whether to hear the case, which has the ungainly name of 480.00 Acres of Land v. United States.