Landmark Property Rights Cases
Several property rights cases have yielded verdicts that set a precedent in eminent domain law. They have been used in other cases to argue both sides.
Kelo vs. City of New London
In 2005, one of the most important eminent domain cases was heard. The city had a major plan for redeveloping 90 acres within the city, which was approved by the city council. The plan included several different uses for the property, including office and retail space, parking facilities and other commercial uses. It would be located next to a new Pfizer Inc. facility.
The property owners didn’t want to sell their properties, so they argued that the takings were not valid. Their argument stated that the takings were in violation of the Fifth Amendment which states eminent domain should only be for public use and that a private party should not benefit from the use.
The result was that the right to eminent domain was upheld on the grounds that it was for a public purpose which is part of public use. The benefits of the plan were for the public, which included new jobs. While the property owners did not win this case, it impacted many states to restrict eminent domain and not allow it for economic development.
Palazzolo v. Rhode Island
The claimant, Anthony Palazzolo, was the owner of a parcel of land along the waterfront of Westerly, Rhode Island, most of which was designated as coastal wetlands. The owner was required to obtain a permit to do any building on coastal lands. He had submitted requests for permits multiple times and was rejected. He sued the state for inverse condemnation, claiming the property was useless to him if he could not develop it.
The state claimed that because some of the property was usable, it was not a total taking. While the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled against Palazzolo, the United States Supreme Court ruled in his favor.
Dolan v. City of Tigard
Another landmark case was held in 1994 when the petitioner, the owner of a plumbing store, filed a request for a permit to expand the business. The city granted the permit with the condition that she give part of her property to the city for a pedestrian pathway. Even though the state ruled in her favor, the US Supreme Court overturned the decision, saying that a conditional permit is only allowed if the condition is directly impacted by the original request.
Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City
In this case, the owner of the Grand Central Terminal wanted to build on top of the station. The building would house offices and were approved by the zoning commission. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected the proposal. The company filed a suit against the city saying it suffered a loss of income as a result of a regulatory taking. After going all the way to the US Supreme Court, the decision was in favor of the preservation commission and denied compensation, stating that the owner of the terminal could still receive adequate income from the terminal in its current state.
While the case went against the transportation company, it served as a precedent case for regulatory takings. In fact, all of these cases have influenced later claims and have been used to plead both sides in eminent domain and property rights.
As many courts continue to broaden their views of eminent domain while others attempt to limit this power, in many instances the implications from property rights cases will continue to be larger than the cases themselves.