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Understanding ‘public use’ in eminent domain claims

On Behalf of | Jan 2, 2020 | Eminent Domain |

There are a couple of core tenets of a lawful eminent domain action. One, the landowner has to receive “just compensation” in exchange for their property. Two, the project that requires this private land has to be for “public use,” offering benefits for the public as a whole. It is this latter concept we are going to focus on in this blog post.

Knowing what, exactly, may qualify as public use can be essential to understanding an eminent domain claim.

Public services are generally accepted

Between both federal and state law, there is not a set list of accepted public use projects when it comes to an eminent domain claim. However, public services are generally understood as acceptable types of public use. For example, the construction of:

  • New roads
  • Water pipelines
  • Civic buildings
  • Protective infrastructure, such as levees
  • Public schools

However, it may surprise some people to learn that certain projects by private entities may also be considered for public use.

Private entities can provide a public benefit

While the California Constitution prohibits state and local governments from acquiring a single-family home via eminent domain for conveyance to a private person or business entity, the language is limited. It means there are circumstances under which a private entity that provides a public use may end up using an individual’s land following an eminent domain claim. Some examples include:

  • Hospitals and other medical facilities
  • Universities
  • Public utilities operated by private entities (such as an electric company)

Keep in mind, your land can’t be snatched simply because an entity feels like building something. The project has to be planned in a way that maximizes public good and minimizes private injury and inconvenience. Taking private land must be deemed necessary.

Still, if you are the one being injured or inconvenienced, the spirit of the law is of little comfort. You have spent lots of time, money and energy building your home or business. Being face to face with a powerful entity that wants to take away a piece of your life is unsettling. While eminent domain cases can be quite complex, you can fight them on a few different fronts, at the very least ensuring nobody tramples over your rights during the ordeal.