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Safeguarding Eminent Domain Reform in Georgia

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in our case Kelo v. New London set off a nationwide backlash against eminent domain abuse, IJ worked with lawmakers across the country to end governments’ use of eminent domain for private development. As a result of our efforts, 44 states now have stronger protections for property owners than they did before Kelo came down.

Georgia is one of the states that enacted strong reforms. IJ worked with lawmakers there to pass the 2006 Landowner’s Bill of Rights, which prohibits taking property for redevelopment, improves due process protections for property owners, and provides attorney’s fees to property owners so they can go to court if needed to protect their rights.

Twelve years later, those reforms are still protecting Georgia property owners. Consider the Candelaria family.

Leslie Candelaria and her family own a home in Jonesboro, Georgia. When they bought the house in 2013, it needed substantial work, but it was the best they could afford. Leslie’s father, José, a contractor, has spent the last five years fixing up the property while Leslie went to college and her younger siblings attended high school. The time and energy the family spent on the property made it their home; they never wanted to leave.

But Jonesboro had other plans for their property. City officials spent years on a redevelopment plan, the centerpiece of which was a new municipal building surrounded by new high-end homes, shops, and restaurants.

In 2018, Jonesboro sued Leslie and her family to take their home. The city claimed the property was for the new municipal building. And before the 2006 reforms, the city’s say-so may have been enough to qualify the taking as a “public use.” But not now.

Thanks to Georgia’s reforms, Jonesboro had to prove in court its plan served a genuine public use. But Jonesboro’s own redevelopment documents revealed its real aim: to give the family’s home to a private developer to build homes for other—richer—people there instead.

When it became clear midway through the hearing in the Candelarias’ case that the judge was going to deny its eminent domain action, Jonesboro “voluntarily” dismissed its own petition. Leslie and her family won a clear victory and, under Georgia’s Landowner’s Bill of Rights, they are entitled to receive attorney’s fees. But in yet another attempt to evade the state’s eminent domain reforms, the city is refusing to pay and threatening to refile its petition to take the Candelaria family’s home.

IJ is not going to let Jonesboro flout the reforms that we worked so hard to secure. We are supporting Leslie’s fight to have her attorney’s fees paid by Jonesboro. And if Jonesboro does come after her property again, IJ will be there to protect her family—and all Georgians—from eminent domain abuse.

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