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What Exactly Defines Public Use in an Eminent Domain Case?

What Exactly Defines Public Use in an Eminent Domain Case?

By on Aug 11, 2014 in Eminent Domain Case |

The government, through the power of eminent domain, has the ability to take any private property that they please for what they call public use.  What exactly is public use, though, and how is it defined in the eyes of the government?  At first glance, you would think that public use is a term that is very subjective.  This is actually true and is exactly why so many eminent domain cases end up being contested in court.

The reality is that private property is just as its called, private.  The whole idea of private property is that it’s a piece of property that you or your business owns.  It could be a home, an office building, a piece of land, automobile, or something entirely different.  No one wants the government to just swoop in and take that private property.

The Constitution and the Power it Provides

The United Stated Constitution, under the Fifth Amendment, gives the government the power of eminent domain.  This was signed and the power was granted when the Constitution was signed by the great individuals who founded this country.  With eminent domain, though, public use has to be proven to be fact in order for the private property to be seized.

So what exactly is public use and why should we pay so much attention to it?  The idea of public use has been interpreted by people many different ways.  Even the United States courts have all interpreted public use differently, depending on each unique situation.

The Basic Definition of Public Use

The basic definition or traditional example of public use is the need for private property in order to build something that is absolutely necessary for the betterment of the public.  A prime example of this would be a school, library, police station, fire station, or some other public structure.  In the event that you have a piece of property or land that the government needs to put this public structure on, then they can use eminent domain to take it and justify it as necessary for public use.

This does not end with just structures though.  Some other common things can include the building of roads, as well as bridges.  These are more general infrastructural items that could be necessary to help traffic in a city or town, or allow access to a new neighbourhood that is going to be built.

Interpreting Public Use in the Court System

The courts have all interpreted public use differently and the government has been known to use it in a broad sense.  The easiest way to think about public use is that it would provide a benefit to the public.  If taking your private property benefits the public in some way, then the government likely has a leg up on you in an eminent domain case.

The most extreme example of public use would be to seize a piece of property to increase tax revenues.  The government may want to build up an area that is going to in-turn generate added tax revenues for the city, town, or state.  The current property that is there may not be doing this for them at the current time.  If the government can prove that this is necessary to provide a benefit for the public, then the public use need may be satisfied.

Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Your Ground

The key in any eminent domain case is to not be afraid to stand your ground.  You may not feel as though the government is correct in believing that your private property is necessary for the betterment of the public.  If you have justifiable reasons that this simply is not the case, then you can disagree with them and fight it all the way to court.  Having a quality eminent domain attorney by your side with experience can help in these situations, but you shouldn’t be fearful of standing up for yourself and your private property.

The idea of eminent domain is scary to anyone that is a private property owner.  The power that it provides to the government, with the loose requirement of public use as a justification, can allow them to seize just about any type of property for fair compensation.  Understanding what constitutes public use can help you get a grasp over whether or not the government has a real claim to your property.  If they do not, you may be able to successfully stand up to them and fight to keep your property to yourself.