Fighting What Many Others Can’t: Nashville Landowner Wins Eminent Domain Compensation Dispute

After a four-year-long legal battle, Tower Investments has finally been awarded an additional $19.2 million in lost compensation for the land that was seized through eminent domain by the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency of Nashville, Tenn., to build the Music City Convention Center. The city originally compensated Tower Investments for the loss of its land to the tune of $14.8 million.

However, when Tower Investments decided to take the city to court over this subpar appraisal of its land, a Nashville jury determined that the property was actually worth $30.4 million—more than double the “just compensation” determined by the city! Furthermore, the city is required by law to pay out an additional $3.6 million of the taxpayers’ money in what would have been accrued interest. But in the process, Tower Investment incurred the cost of hiring an “all-star” team of lawyers for four years and lost thousands of hours that could have been better used on their business.

Tower Investment reports that the case cost millions of dollars, and involved arguing to change the entire process for handling eminent domain cases and for a new judge after the originally assigned judge proved to have a conflict of interest. (That judge had a daughter who was a partner at the law firm that represented Metro.)

Fortunately for them, Tower Investments is a multimillion dollar real estate corporation that has the funds to pay for such long and costly litigation. But what about a neighborhood of working-class families? Or the owners of a family-run business? These are people’s lives and livelihoods being threatened by their own governments, and many people who fall victim to eminent domain cannot afford to defend their properties in court.Indeed, according to Tower Investments Vice President John Pierce, “that is the saddest thing to me about it…we are fighting for citizens’ rights to get fair market value for their property, and a lot of people aren’t able to make that fight.

Tennessee’s post-Kelo eminent domain reform earned a D- from the Institute for Justice, so property owners in the Volunteer State still risk losing their beloved homes and successful small businesses to politically connected developers. Sadly, unlike Tower Investments, most won’t be able to afford an all-star team of lawyers to fight back.For more information on how to fight eminent domain abuse, be sure to check out IJ’s Eminent Domain Abuse Survival Guide.

— Phil Applebaum

Phil Applebaum is a Maffucci Fellow at the Institute for Justice

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