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Eminent Domain

In United States law, eminent domain is the power of the state to appropriate private property for its own use without the owner's consent. In England and Wales, and other jurisdictions that follow the principles of English law, the related term compulsory purchase is used. Governments most commonly use the power of eminent domain when the acquisition of real property is necessary for the completion of a public project such as a road, and the owner of the required property is unwilling to negotiate a price for its sale. In many jurisdictions the power of eminent domain is tempered with a right that just compensation be made for the appropriation.

The term "expropriation is often seen as synonymous with eminent domain and may especially be used with regard to jurisdictions that do not pay compensation for the confiscated property. Examples include the expropriation of lands and property held by Native Americans during the colonization of North America, and the 1960 Cuban expropriation of property held by U.S. citizens, following a breakdown in economic and diplomatic relations between the Dwight Eisenhower administration and the Fidel Castro regime.

The term condemnation is used to describe the act of a government exercising its authority of eminent domain. It is not to be confused with the term of the same name that describes the legal process whereby real property, generally a building, is deemed legally unfit for habitation due to its physical defects. Condemnation via eminent domain indicates the government is taking the property; usually, the only thing that remains to be decided is the amount of just compensation. Condemnation of buildings usually occurs through health and safety hazards or gross zoning violation. In this case, the owner of the property does not lose the property; he or she merely needs to make corrections to the property to bring it up to health, safety and/or zoning codes.

The exercise of eminent domain is not limited merely to real property. Governments may also condemn the value in a contract such as a franchise agreement (which is why many franchise agreements will stipulate that in condemnation proceedings, the franchise itself has no value).

United States
In the United States, the United States Constitution Fifth Amendment to the Constitution requires that just compensation be paid when the power of eminent domain is used, and requires that "public purpose" of the property be demonstrated. Over the years the definition of "public purpose" has expanded to include economic development plans, which use eminent domain seizures to enable commercial development for the purpose of generating more tax revenue for the local government. Critics contend this perverts the intent of eminent domain law and tramples personal property rights. On Thursday June 23, 2005, the Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 ruling against Connecticut residents, that local governments may seize private property for economic development.

In 1981, in Michigan, the Supreme Court of Michigan, building on the precedent set by ''Berman v. Parker'', Court citation 348 U.S. 26 (1954), permitted the neighborhood of Poletown to be taken in order to build a General Motors plant. Courts in other states relied on this decision, which was overturned in 2004, as precedent. This expansion of the definition was argued before the United States Supreme Court in February of 2005, in ''Kelo v. New London''. In June of 2005, the Supreme Court issued their decision in favor of New London, making eminent domain applicable for private economic development.

In other cases communities to take control of planning and development have used eminent domain. Such is the case of the Dudley Street Initiative, a community group in Boston, which attained the right to eminent domain and has used it to reclaim vacant properties in the purpose of positive community development.

In many European nations, the European Convention on Human Rights provides protection from appropriation of private property by the state. European Convention on Human Rights (Article 8) - right to respect for private life. Article 8 of the Convention provides that "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence" and prohibits interference with this right by the state, unless the interference is in accordance with law and necessary in the interests of national security, public safety, economic well-being of the country, prevention of disorder or crime, protection of health or morals, or protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights -Protocol 1 - property, education, expands this right elections, which states that "Every natural person or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions". Again, this is subject to exceptions where state deprivation of private possessions is in the public interest, is in accordance with law, and, in particular, to secure payment of taxes.

In France, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen similarly mandates just and preliminary compensation before ''expropriation''.

In England and Wales, and other jurisdictions that follow the principles of English law, the related term compulsory purchase is more commonly used.

In Australia, s51(xxxi) of the Constitution of Australia permits the federal government to make laws with respect to "the acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws". This has been construed to not necessarily mean just ''compensation'' as a just term might not of necessity be monetary or proprietary recompense. However, it is for the court to determine what is just and it may be necessary to imply a need for compensation in the interests of justice, lest the law be invalid (''Andrews v Howell'' (1941) 65 CLR 255).

For the purposes of s51(xxxi), money is not property which may be compulsarily acquired; the Commonwealth must also derive some benefit from the property acquired and not merely seek to extinguish the previous owner's title (''Mutual Pools and Staff Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Taxation'' (1992) 173 CLR 450). A statutory right to sue has been considered "property" under this section (''Smith v ANL Ltd'' (2000) 176 ALR 449)

Other countries

Many countries do not recognize eminent domain, or only recognize it in a more limited form than the English-speaking world. Japan, for instance, has very weak eminent domain powers, as evidenced by the high-profile opposition to the expansion of Narita International Airport, and the disproportionate amounts of financial inducement given to residents on sites slated for redevelopment in return for their agreement to leave (one well-known recent case being that of Roppongi Hills).

The Latin term ''dominium eminens'' ("supreme lordship") was used in the 17th century by Grotius to describe the concept explained above.

Further reading
  • Steven Greenhut, ''Abuse Of Power: How The Government Misuses Eminent Domain'', Seven Locks Press, June, 2004, trade paperback, 312 pages, ISBN 1931643377

Source: Wikipedia. All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License (see Copyrights for details).

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