Eminent Domain, also referred to as condemnation, is the process whereby the federal, state or local government can take private property for public use. It is provided for in the U.S. Constitution and under most state constitutions or statutes.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which applies to all states under the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause, specifically prohibits the taking of property “without just compensation.” Although the government can only take private property for public use, through the years, what amounts to public use has expanded.

A Landowner’s Options

If the state or federal government intends to take your property through Eminent Domain, although your options are limited, there are some challenges you can make.

  • The use the government claims for your property does not qualify as public use. In 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States expanded the “public use” definition to include use that would “increase the public welfare” which only requires the government that is seizing your property to show that the seizure is “rationally related to a public purpose.” If you can prove that the seizing of your property does not meet that standard, you may prevail in court and prevent the seizure.
  • The proposed compensation is not just. Just compensation is generally determined by an appraisal of the fair market value of the property. The Tennessee Supreme Court has interpreted this to mean “the price that a reasonable buyer would give if he were willing to, but did not have to, purchase and that a willing seller would take if he were willing to, but did not have to, sell.”

This is a complex area of the law. You need the assistance of a qualified attorney to help explore your options, present your challenges, and at a minimum, see that you are justly compensated for the seizure of your property.