Atlantic City Eminent Domain

Casino Reinvestment Development Authority v. Charles and Lucinda Birnbaum et al.
Atlantic City Eminent Domain

 . charlie-birnbaum-piano md

IJ client Charlie Birnbaum. Download high-resolution photo.


Charlie Birnbaum’s is a classic American story. His parents—both immigrants and survivors of the Holocaust—left him many things: a love of this country, a deep passion for music and a home right near the boardwalk in Atlantic City. That home—his parents’ foothold in their adopted country—has been a source of love, tragedy and renewal to the Birnbaum family for the past 50 years. Charlie now keeps an apartment and piano studio on the ground floor; the top two floors are given over to longtime tenants who pay below-market rents; and the whole building is devoted to the memory of Charlie’s parents.

Unfortunately, a state agency, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), is trying to change all that. New Jersey’s CRDA is trying to use eminent domain to seize Charlie’s property as part of a “mixed-use development” project to complement the recently-bankrupt Revel Casino. The trouble is that CRDA has no concrete plans to do anything in particular with Charlie’s property—other than get rid of it. CRDA does not actually need Charlie’s property to develop the surrounding neighborhood. Instead, CRDA is just trying to take Charlie’s home because it thinks it can.

Eminent domain has traditionally been understood as the power of government to take private property for a public use, like a road or a public school. But some state agencies, like New Jersey’s CRDA, abuse eminent domain to take property for purely private development, like shopping centers and high-end boutiques. There has been a nationwide backlash against this kind of eminent domain abuse in recent years and New Jersey courts have been among those to restrict the use of eminent domain, but New Jersey officials seem to be among the last to hear about it.

Even though it does not have any concrete plans for Charlie’s property, CRDA attempts to justify its land grab by pointing to the supposed need to redevelop the neighborhood. But pure economic development is not a public use, and CRDA does not need Charlie’s property to redevelop the area surrounding the Revel casino. Indeed, many of the lots in the neighborhood are empty and are for sale and CRDA is free to purchase them. Charlie’s property, a sturdy and well-maintained brick townhouse located at the very edge of the proposed redevelopment area, is simply not necessary to develop the neighborhood.

The bottom line is that CRDA is not condemning Charlie’s property because CRDA needs it, but because it thinks it can. CRDA is trying to use government force to take Charlie’s modest home and replace it with something else—even though CRDA cannot identify what that something else is. For too long, CRDA has been allowed to get away with whatever it wants, and that means it has started to act like it can get away with whatever it wants. CRDA is about to learn otherwise. That is why, on April 1, 2014, the Institute for Justice filed papers challenging CRDA’s unconstitutional attempt to seize Charlie’s property using eminent domain.


Essential Background

Audio, Video and Images

Backgrounder: How the Institute for Justice is helping one man fight to save his family home

Client Video

Client Photos

Live Stream: Press Conference (May 20, 2014)
Latest Release: Judge Halts NJ Casino Authority’s Attempt to Take Piano Tuner’s Home (August 20, 2015)

Launch Release: Atlantic City Man Fights to Save Family Home From State Agency’s Eminent Domain Abuse (May 16, 2014)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Brief in Opposition to the Condemnation (May 8, 2014)

Answer and Affirmative Defenses (May 2, 2014)
Brief to Permit Discovery (May 1, 2014)
CRDA's Complaint (February 11, 2014)
Trial Court Opinion (November 17, 2014)

Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit: 


May 20, 2014: Case Launch and Initial Hearing

Court Filed:


Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division—Atlantic County



None available

 Current Court: Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division—Atlantic County


  Next Key Date:


Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: NJ’s State of the State of Eminent Domain Abuse (January 12, 2015)


Release: Atlantic City Homeowner Delivers 100,000+ Petition Signatures Demanding Governor Christie Spare Long-time Family Home (December 17, 2014)


Release: Trial Court Rules NJ State Agency Can Take Atlantic City Home Even Without Any Specified Use for the Property (November 17, 2014)


Release: A Financial and Moral Failure, NJ’s Casino Authority Still Seeks to Bulldoze Home Just Because It Thinks It Can (September 3, 2014)

Media Advisory: NJ Trial Court Holds Final Argument in Atlantic City Eminent Domain Abuse Case (October 14, 2014)

none available

Media Advisory: Court Holds Conference on Atlantic City Eminent Domain Abuse Case (August 25, 2014)
Release: IJ to New Jersey State Agency: Leave Charlie Alone (August 22, 2014)

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: For now, piano tuner can keep home New Jersey wants to take Associated Press (August 20, 2015)
Article: A.C. homeowner fighting eminent domain delivers petition Philadelphia Inquirer (December 18, 2014)
Article: Judge rules N.J. agency allowed to seize man's Atlantic City home through eminent domain Star-Ledger (November 18, 2014)
Article: Court rules in favor of CRDA in Birnbaum eminent domain case Press of Atlantic City (November 18, 2014)
Op-ed: Playing Monopoly in New Jersey National Review (October 23, 2014)
Article: A.C. homeowner combating eminent domain sees no good reason Philadelphia Inquirer (October 22, 2014)
Article: Atlantic City fight pits landowner versus state in the shadow of shuttered Revel Star-Ledger (October 16, 2014)
Article: With His Parents' Home at Risk, Atlantic City Piano Man Prepares for a Fight The New York Times (August 29, 2014)
Article: Atlantic City eminent domain case moves forward as Revel closes Star-Ledger (August 29, 2014)
Op-ed: Casino agency abuses eminent domain Courier-Post (August 16, 2014)
Op-ed: Elderly Atlantic City Icon Could Lose His Family Home Of 45 Years To Benefit A Bankrupt Casino Forbes (May 21, 2014)
Article: Atlantic City property owner fights eminent domain case NJ Star Ledger (May 21, 2014)

Article: In AC who gets the house: Piano prodigy or the state? (May 21, 2014)

Article: NJ’s threat to take Holocaust survivor’s land New York Post (May 19, 2014)

Op-ed: Eminent Domain Abusers Are Making a Comeback The Wall Street Journal (May 16, 2014)

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