Eminent Domain

New Jersey Land Grab Outlives the Casino It Was Supposed to Complement

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Institute for Justice

A few months ago, Damon Root noted a New Jersey eminent domain case in which the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) was seeking to condemn a home near the Atlantic City boardwalk so the property could be used as part of a "mixed use development project" intended to "complement the new Revel Casino and assist with the demands created by the resort." Since then Revel has gone bankrupt, and the casino is scheduled to close at the beginning of September. The Institute for Justice, which represents the homeowner, Charlie Birnbaum, a piano tuner who inherited the house from his immigrant parents, reports that the CRDA is nevertheless pressing ahead with condemnation of the property, for reasons even vaguer than its original nebulous plan. "CRDA is not condemning Charlie's property because CRDA needs it," says I.J., "but because it thinks it can." 

Whether the CRDA is right about that remains to be seen. I.J. argues that the proposed condemnation is illegal because the CRDA cannot provide any reasonable assurance that the property will be put to "public use," because development alone cannot justify the use of eminent domain under New Jersey's constitution, and because the CRDA cannot show that the property is necessary to its project. I.J. says the CRDA's plan does not even pass muster under the permissive standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London. That decision hinged on what its author, Justice John Paul Stevens, described as a "carefully formulated" development plan (which nevertheless led nowhere in the end). 

"CRDA had no plan for this property two years ago, and they have no plan now," says I.J. attorney Dan Alban. "CRDA is taking Charlie's property merely because they think they can. CRDA should demonstrate some common sense and common decency and announce that it will once and for all just leave Charlie alone. That's all he is asking for: to be left alone to enjoy what is rightfully his."