Eminent Domain

Bulldoze First, Answer Questions Later

A New Jersey ruling invites eminent domain abuse.


Two years ago, New Jersey's Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) approved something called the South Inlet Mixed Use Development Project, which was intended to "complement the new Revel Casino and assist with the demands created by the resort." Two months ago, the bankrupt Revel Casino closed.

The CRDA nevertheless is still trying to condemn a three-story brick townhouse at 311 Oriental Avenue in Atlantic City as part of that Revel-inspired project, the details of which remain vague. In fact, the CRDA can't even say what it plans to do with the lot on which the house sits.

That's OK, according to Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez, who on Monday ruled that the CRDA may condemn first and answer questions later. The ruling shows that no one's property is safe when eminent domain becomes unmoored from the "public use" that is supposed to justify it.

The CRDA offered Charlie Birnbaum, a 67-year-old piano tuner, $238,500 for the house on Oriental Avenue, which his parents bought in 1969. But Birnbaum, who has a piano repair workshop on the first floor and rents the two other floors to longtime tenants, has a strong sentimental attachment to the place and does not want to part with it.

"This court acknowledges and empathizes with the Birnbaums' desire to keep this family-owned property," Judge Mendez wrote in his decision on Monday. But given the CRDA's "broad" powers, he said, the agency is entitled to "deference" when it covets someone's land. In other words: Since the legislature told the CRDA to promote tourism and that is what the CRDA claims to be doing, who am I to interfere?

To which Birnbaum's lawyers at the Institute for Justice reply: You're a judge, which means you are charged not only with interpreting statutes but with enforcing the limits that the U.S. and New Jersey constitutions impose on them. One of those limits is the requirement that condemned land be used for a public purpose, which means nothing if it can mean anything.

According to the New Jersey Supreme Court, property cannot be condemned for redevelopment unless it is "blighted," and the CRDA makes no such claim about Birnbaum's house. The U.S. Supreme Court has approved condemnation of unblighted property for economic development, but only in the context of a "comprehensive" plan adopted after "thorough deliberation."

The CRDA's South Inlet Mixed Use Development Project, which Birnbaum's lawyers describe as "a vague notion rather than specific plan," hardly seems to qualify. Even if the project serves a legitimate public purpose, the CRDA cannot show that Birnbaum's property, which juts out like a thumb from the periphery of the project area, is "essential" to the plan, as the agency claims and New Jersey law requires, especially since it cannot say what will replace the house.

"CRDA isn't taking Charlie's property because they need it for anything," says Institute for Justice senior attorney Robert McNamara. "They're just taking it because they think they can get away with it."

Mendez seemed untroubled by this fuzziness. "The Court agrees with the CRDA's position that they are not required to produce plans identifying specific uses or structures for the property," he wrote.

If so, how can anyone be confident that whatever ends up happening on the lot will serve a public purpose? Mendez's ruling, McNamara says, "means that [the CRDA] can take any piece of property in Atlantic City, anytime they want, for any reason or for no reason. The idea that any government entity can be trusted with that level of power is appalling."

Birnbaum plans to appeal, and the condemnation of his property is on hold in the meantime. But he cannot keep the bulldozers at bay unless he finds some judges who are less deferential to the CRDA's arbitrary demands. As Institute for Justice President Chip Mellor observes, "The only thing that stands between the people of New Jersey and this kind of unprincipled government theft is an engaged judiciary."

© Copyright 2014 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. You’re a judge, which means you are charged not only with interpreting statutes but with enforcing the limits that the U.S. and New Jersey constitutions impose on them.

    A judge is just a lawyer who got lucky and/or kissed the right asses.

    1. Lawyers should be barred from being judges. After all, the lawyer’s job is to pervert the law in support of their client. The supposed role if the judge is to impartially adjudicate. These are mutually contradictory roles.

      1. A trucker has a hobby. If he’s driving down a road and sees a lawyer pedestrian, he runs them over.

        One day, he sees a priest hitchhiking and gives him a lift. As they are traveling along, the trucker sees a lawyer on the shoulder, and instinct kicks in. At the last minute, he remembers the priest and werves away, but hears a thump regardless.

        He apologizes to the priest, who says, “That’s ok, I got him with the door.”

    2. Q: What do you call a lawyer with an IQ of 100?
      A: Your Honor.
      Q: What do you call a lawyer with an IQ of 50
      A: Senator.

      1. difference between a lawyer and and a catfish?One’s a bottom feeding scum sucker,the other’s a fish

        1. What’s the difference between a vacuum cleaner and a lawyer on a motorcycle? The vacuum cleaner has the dirt bag on the inside.

          1. Are there a lot of bag model vacuums still being sold? I thought a lot of them had switched to bagless.

            1. Yes, actually…I was vacuum shopping recently and found there are far more bagged than bagless models on the market.

              1. Huh. I guess the margins on refill bags are high enough to encourage manufacturers to stick with them (and enough customers either still want them or expect them)

          2. What’s the difference between a road killed lawyer and a road killed skunk?

            Skid marks in front of the skunk.

        2. three doctors debate the easiest person to do surgery on.One says a plumber,just follow the pipes,one says a electrician,their color coded,the last said lawyers,there’s just a mouth and a asshole and there interchangeable.

          1. There are only three lawyer jokes. The rest are true stories.

            1. I’m guessing the one about the lawyer going to Heaven is a joke, right? No lawyer has ever gone.

              1. You must have a soul to go to Heaven

                1. What do you call 25 skydiving lawyers?

                  1. I’ve heard they taste like chiken

                    1. chicken,damn

          2. their color coded,the last said lawyers,theyre’s just a mouth and a asshole and there interchangeable


            1. I bet your fun at parties.

              1. “I bet your fun at parties.”


                I are too.

                (Fun at parties, that is.)

    3. The judge is just going by the well-established FYTW clause in the Constitution.

  2. I’m far more concerned with the name Oriental Avenue. So offensive.

    1. You must hate Monopoly.

      1. Why yes, I find Monopoly despicable, because I always end up paying more than the product is worth.

        Oh, you mean the board game.

        1. Notice that they didn’t try to seize a house on Park Place.

          1. The light blues are the second cheapest propery group in the game, of course a house there is blighted.

  3. Joe Kennedy would have loved this

    1. Nucky Johnson, too.

  4. If government can’t steal property nothing will ever get done! Why do you hate roads!!??

  5. Can anyone come up with a good reason for eminent domain to exist at all?

    1. No, because it should not. Now some are going to argue that it prevents major infrastructure projects being held up by one ot two speculators holding out for high sums. However, there are very simple precautions that can be taken by the developer, such as straw purchases through shell companies to hide the fact that one entity is accumulating a span of land. This also provides the fleixibility to reroute when someone won’t sell for legitimate reasons, and avoids meddling NIMBYs. While more time consuming, it is certainly a doable method that is already in use.

      1. People manage to build shopping centers without relying on eminent domain. (Well, they do outside of those cities where projects backed by big government are the only things that ever get built). Also, eminent domain permits a short-circuiting of market signals and thus allows all of those freeways to nowhere to be built.

        1. Probably theme parks too, although projects that big might start attracting attention from city fathers eager to throw their eminent domain weight around.

    2. “It adds to the funds in my offshore account” would be a good reason to a politician.

    3. Anyone? I am certain that thieves have a good reason: it makes it easier to steal.

      Me? Sorry, I got nothing.

      1. It was more of a rhetorical question.

        I would love to see a Constitutional amendment ending it.

        1. It wouldn’t matter. The Nazgul would rationalize that the amendment still allowed it under certain ‘reasonable’ circumstances where the there exists a “compelling government interest”. Just like they nullify the fourth amendment, second, fifth, first, etc. etc.

          1. Residuum of sovereignty! (“Residuum” is Latin for FYTW.)

    4. That’s easy.


      1. Despite your obvious sarcasm, that is what eminent domain was supposed to be for — public infrastructure. We can argue about whether that’s valid — the 5th Amendment drafters intended that use, for whatever that’s worth — but it’s been expanded to a ridiculous degree from that original scope.

  6. The CDRA is doing it wrong. When someone fights the land grab, you buy up the surrounding properties, leave them vacant and unsecured so the whole neighborhood becomes a violent cesspool. Then the obstinate property owner will eventually break and come crawling back, begging for a tenth of the original offer. Amateurs.

  7. Judge Julio Mendez ? ruled that the CRDA may condemn first and answer questions later.

    It’d be great if CRDA condemned Mendez’s property.

  8. Judge must have been greased by Nucky Thompson.

  9. I don’t think the eminent domain power has become “unmoored” from the public use it’s supposed to be attached to, it’s just that “public use” has come to mean anything and everything. Gas stations and Walmarts are used by the public just as much as roads and parks are so the government can take land for Walmart just as rightfully as they can take land for a road, right?

    Well, only if you ignore that “the public” and “public” are two different things – both Central Park and Walt Disney World are parks that are open to the public but only one is a public park. If they build this resort development as a public good, people should stroll in and help themselves to the amenities on the grounds that it’s a public development.

    1. Public used to mean everyone, including you.

      Now it means everyone except you.

      1. “Public” doesn’t refer to a collection of individuals at all, anymore. It’s an amorphous blob that accepts whatever is projected on it.

        1. The public has become the modern equivalent of the divine right of the king.

        2. Like this blob?

      2. Besides, the term “public use” in the Constitution is a result of a scrivener’s error. Draft copies show that Jefferson et al. intended the clause to read “pubic use“, as taxpayer-funded brothels were a function of government that was always intended by the Founders.

        1. What does it say about freedom from pubic hair?

          1. It is silent on the matter.

            1. It’s a matter of public health. Probably falls under the CDC’s jurisdiction.

    2. The problem doesn’t even seem to be at that level. Very early it was established that land could be taken to make a pond for a privately-owned mill because the miller would probably be a benefit for people in the vicinity, yet for a long time ED was limited to only a few kinds of situation like that, even though there was really no place to draw the line. It was more a matter of degree, such as there being only so many creeks to dam but a great number of places to put a Walmart. The slope was slippery, but for a long time there wasn’t so much slippage.

  10. If they can take some property “for the public good,” why can’t they take other property “for the public good?” Why can’t they, say, take a cancer drug from a pharma company, or take an oil company’s wells? For the public good.To benefit everyone.

    1. Would anyone be surprised if they tried?

      1. It’s only a matter of time.

        1. Ironically, lobbyists may be the only defence against that sort of thing.

      2. Only those Looney Libertarians and Redneck Republicans. But they’re just greedy assholes who hate progress.


    2. Since US patent law severely limits the remedies available when the US Government infringes a patent, we’re well on our way there.

      1. Well, stealing wells and stealing patents will lead to people not investing money into those things. Why bother if the government is just going to steal from you anyway? So the only way to get better drugs is through conscription. And we know how well that works (hint: it’s counter-productive).

        But Progs will push for that shit anyway.

  11. Since I won’t be around for the morning links:

    The ‘USA Freedom Act’ Is A Fraud. The bill deserved to die. It was worse than nothing.

  12. I love it when another man just “bulldozes” me…

  13. Dollar General may have to divest more than double the 1,500 stores it said it was willing to sell if it wants to gain regulatory approval to buy arch-rival Family Dollar, The Post has learned.
    The Federal Trade Commission may require the country’s No. 1 dollar store chain to divest more than 4,000 stores to win approval of its stalled $9.1 billion merger proposal, two sources close to the situation said Tuesday.


  14. “Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA)”

    So, a government body formed for the explicit purpose of abusing eminent domain.

  15. my buddy’s sister makes $79 an hour on the computer . She has been out of work for 10 months but last month her income was $17508 just working on the computer for a few hours. this website…

    ?????? http://www.payinsider.com

  16. The Mob was pushed out of Vegas to make room for the politically-connected, hyper-criminal super-crooks to take over.

  17. Jack Sanford is jsut cool like that.


  18. Having looked up this judge, it appears that his qualifications for appointment consisted mainly of becoming the first hispanic assignment judge in NJ.

    This case is also a lesson in how statist in both parties have brought this together, as this judge was appointed by a Democratic governor, and provided tenure by another Democratic governor, while 12 of the 18 board members of the CRDA are appointed by the current governor, Christie.

  19. If there was ever a concept which needed to be stricken from the lexicon of all three branches of government it’s “deference to other branches of government.” Each branch of the government is supposed to be a check and a balance against the other, not a co-conspirator. Any government official or employee who uses the term deference should be summarily removed from his or her position for breach of contract.

  20. I just got paid $6784 working off my laptop this month. And if you think that’s cool, my divorced friend has twin toddlers and made over $9k her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less. This is what I do,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    == === ==== ==== ??W?W?W.W?O?R?K?4?H?O?U?R.C?O?M?

  21. my best friend’s step-aunt makes $78 every hour on the internet . She has been laid off for ten months but last month her pay was $13879 just working on the internet for a few hours. try this web-site….

    ?????? http://www.payinsider.com

  22. The billionaire’s back fist and the government’s garrote; eminent domain. What an insidious instrument of oppression this is.

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