Ever since the Supreme Court issued its infamous 2005 Kelo decision, people have been anxiously awaiting the Court's next opportunity to weigh in on the extent of the government's eminent domain authority and, in particular, the limits (if any) created by the "public use" requirement.
One of the cases that has been watched closely involves efforts to expand Columbia University in New York. In Tuck-It-Away, Inc. v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, dba Empire State Development Corporation, the New York State Urban Development Corporation sought to condemn property from Tuck-It-Away in order to transfer the property to Columbia.
As the case was framed by the property owner, the agency went beyond what even the broad Kelo decision allows. In particular, in upholding eminent domain for purely economic motives, the Kelo court nonetheless explained that
[the government may not] take property under the mere pretext of a public purpose, when its actual purpose was to bestow a private benefit.
In particular, the Kelo Court warned that a "one-to-one transfer of property, executed outside the confines of an integrated development plan," would "raise a suspicion that a private purpose was afoot." This is exactly what the property owner claimed was happening in Tuck-It-Away.
New York's Appellate Division agreed, holding the taking unconstitutional. However, the New York Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the taking did qualify as a public use. Specifically, the Court held that the project would eliminate blight and would promote education, academic research and the expansion of knowledge, which the New York Court described as "pivotal government interests."
This set the framework for the Petition for Certiarori to the United States Supreme Court, which met last Friday to discuss the case. Today, the Supreme Court issued an order denying the Petition. This means that the Supreme Court will not hear the case on the merits and the decision of the New York Supreme Court upholding the taking will stand.
Even though the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, property rights advocates will decry this as another Supreme Court attack on private property rights. In the meantime, Columbia will presumably be able to move forward with its expansion plans.
Rick Rayl is an experienced litigator on a broad range of complex civil litigation issues. His practice is concentrated primarily on eminent domain, inverse condemnation, and other real-estate-valuation disputes. His public ...
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