Arlington, Va.—After seven years of litigation, a federal trial judge confirmed last night what Bill Brody has known all along: the government must provide citizens with notice before their right to challenge eminent domain expires. Further, the Village of Port Chester, N.Y., violated Brody’s rights by failing to do so.
Yesterday’s decision, written by Judge Harold J. Baer, Jr., is a milestone in Brody’s ongoing battle. The New York Legislature, outraged over the injustices inflicted upon Brody, changed the state’s eminent domain laws to require mailed notice to property owners of the threat to their land as well as notice of their constitutional rights. Despite the amendments to the law, New Yorkers still must challenge the use of eminent domain against their property months or even years before the government ever actually moves to take the land.
“This is an important decision for the rights of property owners across the country,” said Dana Berliner, a senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, which represents Brody and property owners fighting eminent domain nationwide. “The judge has rejected the Village’s dangerous attempt to undermine the Constitution and vindicated a fundamental principle: that the government cannot rely on hints and rumors to warn citizens that their rights are in jeopardy. It is the government’s job to provide citizens with fair notice—not the citizens’ job to chase down the government and ask if it plans to violate their rights that day.”
“Finally!” said Brody of the opinion. “I’ve said for years that Port Chester violated my rights, and I’m thrilled that a court finally recognized I’ve been right all along.”
While Brody was restoring four abandoned buildings in Port Chester, the village issued him permits but never once informed him that in the end it planned to take his buildings, bulldoze them, and hand the land over to a private developer for a Stop & Shop supermarket parking garage. Instead of mailing Bill notice of the imminent loss of his rights, the village published a legal classified ad that didn’t mention anything about the fact that property owners would be waiving their rights if they didn’t file a lawsuit within 30 days. Now, seven years after his fight began, Bill remains in federal court; proceedings later this year will determine what remedy Bill is due for the Village’s violation of his rights.
“This common-sense ruling is long-overdue: now, there is no question that Port Chester failed to provide Bill Brody with the basic notice guaranteed by the Constitution,” said IJ Staff Attorney Robert McNamara. “For property owners nationwide, this ruling means that there is still some teeth to constitutional protections for their homes and small businesses.”
“Bill Brody has waged a heroic fight against eminent domain abuse, and it is fitting that his constitutional rights have finally been vindicated,” said Chip Mellor, IJ president and general counsel. “His never-say-die determination is a shining example for home and small business owners across the country.”