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Eminent Domain and Condemnation Law

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The Takings Clause in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from taking private property, except “for public use,” even when it offers just compensation. Many state constitutions and statutes have provisions similar to the federal Takings Clause. In “classic” taking situations, eminent domain and condemnation are invoked to provide land for public schools, roads, hospitals, utilities, and similar customary public uses.

More recently, government has perceived a need to expand the exercise of eminent domain beyond its classic takings context to include a variety of “rationally conceivable” public benefits thinly tethered to public use. In these instances, lawyers are asked to advise their clients on whether the government has been faithful to its constitutional duties to take property only for a public use upon payment of just compensation and in accordance with statutory procedures enacted to protect property owners.

In instances where governmental regulations “go too far” and impose burdens on private interests that should be borne by the public as a whole, lawyers evaluate whether the regulation unconstitutionally deprives the owner of all economically viable use of property or has a significant impact on its value and the owner’s investment-backed expectations.

The Takings Clause also places limits on the power of government to impose exactions for development permits. These exactions may be fees, dedications of real property, or other obligations asserted to offset the impact of a development project. Under the doctrine of unconstitutional exactions, a benefit demanded of the landowner must have a nexus to the impact of the development and be roughly proportional to its anticipated effects.

In many instances, lawyers in this practice area engage experts in appraisal, construction, development, economics, environmental remediation, engineering, permitting, planning, zoning, and related professions to secure fair treatment, fair value, and a fair understanding of whether one of the most potent powers granted to government has been exercised in fidelity to lawful mandates.
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