Atlantic City Homeowner Safe From Eminent Domain

The years-long fight to save an Atlantic City man’s home from eminent domain may have finally come to an end last week after Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez ruled that the city’s attempt to seize Charlie Birnbaum’s property was “a manifest abuse of the eminent domain power” and finally dismissed the state’s condemnation attempt for good.

The Institute for Justice took up Birnbaum’s case back in 2014, arguing that the city had no right to claim his home for private development purposes. The Independent summed up his hard-fought victory as well as his legacy as an Atlantic City Piano tuner:

“A court ruling saying he can keep the house with no fear of the bulldozers and the wrecking ball has marked the end of a four-year nightmare for 69-year-old Charlie Birnbaum, who in his time has tuned pianos in local casinos for Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and others.”

Birnbaum expressed his gratitude that after years of legal battles, he had won the right to keep his home. He told the Associated Press:

“This has been a four-year process to finally hear this news that things can come back to some kind of normal, that our beloved place is still ours, and we can be part of whatever good is going to come to Atlantic City and it will.”

The Institute for Justice has been fighting these types of property rights violations since its inception in the early 1990s. IJ Senior Attorney Robert McNamara, who represented Birnbaum, told the Press of Atlantic City just how outrageous a violation of basic property rights it would have been for the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) to have taken Birnbaum’s home:

“This is a victory for property rights, common sense, and the people of New Jersey. CRDA’s position was that they could take Charlie’s property for any reason or for no reason, just because they wanted it. Today’s ruling emphatically says otherwise.”

Writing for The Washington Post, Illya Somin also notes the significance of this victory:

“The ruling is a noteworthy victory for property rights, because state and local governments often condemn property for extremely dubious projects where there is little or no assurance that the promised development will actually occur.”

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