A Summary of the Kelo Decision and its Impact on Eminent Domain Law.

Real Estate Law

In 2005, the United States Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Kelo v. New London.  In a 5-4 decision delivered by Justice Stevens, the Supreme Court ruled that the government’s seizure and transfer of private property to a private redevelopment company did not violate the 5th Amendment’s taking clause.

A Momentous Decision.

The “Public Use Clause” of the 5th Amendment prevents the government from seizing private property for public use without paying for it. The clause states: “No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process, of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Key to the 5th Amendment’s protections, and the main area of dispute in almost all eminent domain proceedings, is whether or not the property being seized is being taken for “public use.”

Not surprisingly, this was the heart of the debate in the Kelo case as well.

In Kelo, the plaintiff sued the city of New London, Connecticut for seizing her property under eminent domain and transferring it to New London Development Corporation. The plaintiff and seven others in the area had refused to sell their private property. To force them to give up their homes and accept compensation, the government condemned their properties. Kelo sued, arguing that the seizure of her property was a violation of the “public use” element of the 5th Amendment takings clause because her property was not “blighted,” and it would be transferred to a private firm for economic development.

The Supreme Court upheld the taking of Kelo’s property, holding that New London’s proposed disposition of the subject property qualified as a public use because the city had a “carefully formulated an economic development plan” intended to provide appreciable benefits to the community—and not just the private developer.

In the majority’s opinion, the city’s plan served a public purpose.  According to the Court, therefore, if an economic project creates new jobs, increases taxes and other revenues, and revitalizes a depressed (even if not blighted) urban area, it qualifies as a public use.

Kelo Continues to Impact Eminent Domain Law Today.

The impact of the Kelo decision in eminent domain cases was, and continues to be, significant. After Kelo, Georgia’s laws were changed to give the government redevelopment powers— including the power to sell or otherwise dispose of property acquired by eminent domain to private enterprise for private use. This was even written into Georgia’s constitution which now provides that the development of trade, commerce, industry, and employment opportunities is a “public purpose vital to the welfare of the people of this state.”

“Public use” is no longer confined to its literal meaning of “use by the public.” The term now encompasses anything that could inure to the public benefit or general welfare.

Real Estate Attorneys in Georgia.  

Since 2001, the Law Offices of Mark Weinstein has focused on all aspects of real estate law and litigation. We are located in Cumming, Georgia, but we serve clients in and around Atlanta, Marietta, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Kennesaw, Forsyth County, and a number of other counties in Georgia. Call us at 770-888-7707, or contact us here, or send inquiries by e-mail to: lawofficesofmarkweinstein@gmail.com.

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