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Public Advocate Releases Report on Eminent Domain Abuse, Calls For Action on Pending Reform Legislation

Article

In-Sites

June 1, 2007

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of eminent domain power for the purpose of economic development in Kelo v. City of New London 125 S. Ct. 2655, reh’g denied, 126 S. Ct. 24 (2005), commentators, activists, and legislators have called for controls on the use — and abuse — of eminent domain. The latest contribution to the debate in New Jersey is a report from the state’s Department of the Public Advocate released on May 29 and entitled “In Need of Redevelopment: Repairing New Jersey’s Eminent Domain Laws — Abuses and Remedies: A Follow-Up Report.” The new report follows a more policy-oriented May 2006 report from the department entitled “Reforming the Use of Eminent Domain for Private Redevelopment in New Jersey.”

The new report seeks to put “a human face” on the problems highlighted in the 2006 report by detailing, in anecdotal form, several kinds of abuses of the eminent domain process, including “bogus blight,” “stealth takings” and “anemic” judicial review. (One case discussed in the report, Quagliariello v. Township of Edison, was the subject of a 2005 In-Sites article. It shows how inadequate statutory protections, shady practices by public officials, and overly deferential judicial review can turn the eminent domain process into a nightmare of unfairness for innocent property owners).

The report concludes with an endorsement of Assembly Bill No. 3257, which was passed by the Assembly in June 2006 but has been stalled in the Senate for almost a year. As described in In-Sites last year, A-3257 would reform the eminent domain process by (1) tightening the statutory definition of “blighted area” by making it more objective and less subject to arbitrary expansion, (2) introducing procedural protections to make the process more open and transparent, and (3) revising the way tenants and property owners are compensated.