Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

Update - March 2001

Lawsuits Attack Property Seizures

Institute Campaigns Against Condemnations to Transfer Property to Private Owners

By Carol W. LaGrasse

New Rochelle, New York...Port Chester, New York... North Hempstead, New York...The Empire State Development Corporation...Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania... New London, Connecticut...Atlantic City, New Jersey...What do these municipalities and this quasi-government agency have in common?

They have all met the Institute for Justice, a Washington-based legal foundation devoted to individual freedom, when they attempted to condemn the property of one set of private owners in order to convey it to more favored private entities.

In a celebrated victory over Atlantic City in New Jersey Supreme Court in 1999, the Institute's attorney Dana Berliner defeated the city's plans to condemn the home of an elderly woman who had lived there for 38 years, as well as a restaurant and gold store, to make way for a lawn and limousine waiting area for Donald Trump's casino across the street.

In New Rochelle, the Institute for Justice is defending 34 homes and 28 businesses against the city, which would displace them all for a sixteen-acre store planned by the Swedish retailer, IKEA.

The Town of North Hempstead met the Institute for Justice in a civil rights suit in the United States District Court after it condemned St. Luke's Pentecostal Church, planning to pay "just compensation" of only $80,000 for the property. This is $50,000 less than the church actually paid to purchase it.

For more than seventy years, William Minnich and his family have owned Minic Custom Woodwork in East Harlem, in uptown Manhattan, where they have produced work exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Faced with condemnation by The Empire State Development Corporation to transfer the property to a private developer, Home Depot, for a parking lot, the Minnichs are being defended by Institute for Justice in the same civil rights suit brought in October.

Believing in the future of downtown Port Chester, Bill Brody has been improving Main Street by purchasing adjacent buildings and renovating them . But the Village decided to condemn the properties for a Stop 'n Shop and its parking lot. The Institute is defending Mr. Brody's civil rights in the suit brought in October. This civil suit challenges the abuse of due process that New York State law allows during eminent domain. When the initial hearing notice appears, property owners are never told that under New York law this is the only time when they have to protest or else they lose their right of appeal.

In Pittsburgh, the Institute for Justice defended the owners of more than 60 privately owned buildings housing over 120 small businesses in order to make way for a Chicago-based developer to convert the area around Fifth and Forbes to an upscale retail center anchored by Nordstrom's department store. The owners and the Institute persevered against all odds, not only the support for the project by a slew of public agencies, but also the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's backing for the project. On the day before Thanksgiving, Nordstrom's announced it would not build a store in downtown Pittsburgh. Soon after that, Mayor Murphy pledged that he would not use eminent domain for downtown redevelopment.

The Institute filed suit in December against the City of New London and the New London Development Corporation. They are condemning homes and businesses in Fort Trumbull, a well-established, working-class neighborhood along a beautiful stretch of waterfront, with the idea of using this land to build a private health club, office space and unspecified other projects to enhance Pfizer's research and development headquarters nearby. The head of the redevelopment authority justifies using eminent domain here for "social justice" by comparing the work she is doing to that of Jesus and Martin Luther King, according to the Institute.
- Carol W. LaGrasse
(March 2001)

For additional information:

"Unequal Protection - The Injustice of using Eminent Domain on Behalf of Private Business" -Dana Berliner, from Proceedings of the Fourth Annual New York Conference on Private Property Rights (PRFA, 1999)

Institute for Justice
John E. Kramer, Vice President
1717 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 955-1300
Web site: www.ij.org
E-mail: jkramer@ij.org

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