2007 Eminent Domain Report Card: Michigan Gets An “A-”

Matt Powers
Matt Powers · June 6, 2007

Arlington, Va.—Michigan home and small business owners have reason to celebrate according to a 50-state eminent domain report card released today. In the two years since the infamous Kelo eminent domain ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that allowed eminent domain for private gain, Michigan has passed some of the strongest legislation in the nation as well as a constitutional amendment protecting small property owners from eminent domain abuse.

“Michigan homeowners are much more protected from eminent domain abuse today than they were the day the Kelo decision was announced,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Castle Coalition, a national grassroots organization that examined and graded eminent domain laws for each of the 50 states since the Kelo ruling. Read the report at: www.CastleCoalition.org/publications/report_card.

According to the report, “Michigan is an example of a state that was not content to rest on its laurels. Just three years ago the Michigan Supreme Court set the standard for the rest of the country by emphatically rejecting the idea (which, ironically, the same court had championed in its earlier Poletown decision) that private commercial development is a constitutionally permissible justification for taking one private person’s property and transferring it to another private party. In the wake of Kelo, however, the Michigan Legislature determined to act decisively to ensure that Michiganders would not have to worry about their rights.”

The report found the result of the Legislature’s efforts was Senate Joint Resolution E, an amendment to the state constitution that prohibits “the taking of private property for transfer to a private entity for the purpose of economic development or enhancement of tax revenues.” Moreover, the amendment changed so-called blight law within the state, requiring blight to be determined on a parcel-by-parcel basis and requiring the government to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that a property’s condition satisfies the definition of blight established by law. These were significant, important changes to the existing laws in Michigan.

The resolution passed the House by a vote of 106-0 and the Senate by 31-6. After being signed by the governor, the constitutional amendment was placed on the ballot for the November 2006 election, where more than 80 percent of Michigan voters approved the amendment.

In addition to the constitutional amendment, Michigan’s Legislature also adopted a number of bills that address condemnation procedure and compensation. House Bills 5817, 5818, and 5819 raised the cap on state-provided moving expenses for individuals (but not businesses), allowed low-income individuals to recover attorney’s fees following an unsuccessful condemnation challenge, and outlined the process of surrendering property. House Bills 5820 and 5821 outlined procedures for determining and providing compensation.

Finally, House Bill 5060 and companion Senate Bill 693 mirrored the language of the proposed constitutional amendment by altering the definition of public use to exclude economic development.

Among the states that passed the strongest reforms protecting property owners are Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota, each of which received an A or A- grade. States that received F’s were: Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.

“In only two years since Kelo, 41 states have reformed their laws to offer greater protection to small property owners,” said Jenifer Zeigler, legislative affairs attorney with the Castle Coalition. “But much more work remains if homeowners, small business owners, churches and farmers are to be as safe as those in Michigan from the unholy alliance of tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers.”

The report seeks to step back and evaluate the legislative work that has been done and is left to do. It finds, “Some states have passed model reforms that can serve as an example for others. Some states enacted nominal reform—possibly because of haste, oversight or compromise—and need to know what is left to fix. And finally, there are those states that have failed to act altogether, leaving home, farm, and business owners threatened by Kelo-type takings and beyond.”

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[NOTE: To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call John Kramer, the Institute for Justice’s vice president for communications, at (703) 682-9320 ext. 205 or in the evening/weekend at (703) 527-8730. For more information on eminent domain abuse, visit www.ij.org or www.castlecoalition.org.]