Washington, D.C.-Today, homeowners in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Conn., filed their opening brief in a precedent-setting case before the Supreme Court of Connecticut asking the Court to declare that the taking of their homes and land for private profit violates the state and U.S. constitutions and Connecticut law.
The Court will decide for the first time the constitutionality of using eminent domain for “economic development”—taking someone’s property because the government believes it will generate more jobs and taxes if transferred to another private party, usually for commercial development.
“We are confident the Supreme Court will reject this blatant land grab for private profit,” said Scott Bullock senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm that represents the families in the case. “Connecticut courts have been very concerned in the past several years about the abuse of eminent domain.” He noted that in the last three cases concerning eminent domain, the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the property owners.
In March 2002, New London Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Corradino dismissed 11 out of 15 eminent domain actions, handing a victory to four homeowners in Fort Trumbull. The property owners appealing—the Cristofaro Family, Richard Beyer and Byron Athenian—own four homes on property known as Parcel 3, a part of the plan where privately owned office space is planned. By order of the trial court, they have retained possession of their homes while their case is on appeal. The City of New London and the New London Development Corporation (NLDC) have also appealed the ruling dismissing the other eminent domain actions.
“Everyone’s property would generate more tax dollars if the houses were torn down and a big business put in its place,” commented Dana Berliner, another senior attorney at the Institute. “But using that as the only reason to destroy someone’s home is both immoral and unconstitutional. If this can happen to the homeowners in New London, it can happen to any homeowner in Connecticut. The last few years have seen a huge upsurge of popular rebellion against the rampant abuse of eminent domain. With cases like this one, it’s easy to see why.”
Increasingly, governments across the nation take private property not for a public use but for private businesses. The NLDC’s effort to take property in Fort Trumbull is a blatant example of this kind of abuse of power. The City of New London delegated its eminent domain authority to the NLDC, a private—and, therefore, unaccountable—development corporation in 2000.
The Institute for Justice currently fights other battles across the nation against the taking of private properties by the governments for the economic benefit of private parties. In April of this year, it secured a major victory for the Archie family of Canton, Miss., when the State dropped its lawsuits seeking to take 24 acres of land and more than 10 homes to give to Nissan for a truck plant. This year the Institute launched the Castle Coalition (www.castlecoalition.org), a nationwide network of community activists and property owners dedicated to stopping eminent domain abuse wherever it occurs. The Coalition spotlighted the Fort Trumbull case in a publication issued in March titled, Government Theft: The Top 10 Abuses of Eminent Domain, 1998-2002.