Ohio Supreme Court Accepts Eminent Domain Abuse Case

John Kramer
John Kramer · October 3, 2005

Washington, D.C.—Today, the Ohio Supreme Court announced it will hear the most important ongoing eminent domain case in the nation, making it the first state supreme court to accept an eminent domain abuse case after the U.S. Supreme Court removed federal constitutional protection from homeowners and threw the issue back to the states to decide if any state-level protection remains.

“This case gives the Ohio Supreme Court a prime opportunity to do what the U.S. Supreme Court refused to do—protect home and small business owners from the scourge of eminent domain abuse for private development,” said Bert Gall, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is representing Norwood homeowners Carl and Joy Gamble and local businessman Joe Horney for free. “The U.S. Supreme Court said that states are free to provide greater protection for their citizens, and given the way Ohio cities have shamelessly abused the power of eminent domain, the state’s highest court should do just that.”

The case began when private developer Jeffrey Anderson decided that he wanted to expand his $500,000,000 real estate empire by building a complex of chain stores, condominiums and office space on top of the neighborhood where the Gambles and Mr. Horney owned homes. Using a “study” initiated and paid for by Anderson after he chose the neighborhood for his development, Norwood declared the well-kept neighborhood “deteriorating” so it could use eminent domain under Ohio law. Under the Ohio Constitution and urban renewal laws, eminent domain can only be used to eliminate actual conditions of slum and blight. A trial court found that the neighborhood is not blighted, but agreed with the City that the neighborhood is “deteriorating” because, among other reasons, it had “diversity of ownership”—in other words, people own their own homes and businesses.

“The study was an error-ridden sham, and the City used a broad definition of ‘deteriorating’ that could include virtually every residential neighborhood in Ohio and the rest of the country,” added Gall. “If a city can use a ridiculous definition of ‘deteriorating’ to take normal neighborhoods on behalf of wealthy, politically-connected developers, your home or small business could be next.”

The Gambles’ and Mr. Horney’s case will be the most important eminent domain case the Ohio Supreme Court has heard in more than 50 years. In 1953, in State ex rel. Bruestle v. Rich, the Court declared that “the power of eminent domain may not be exercised merely or primarily to take private property for private purposes.” Nonetheless, a report by the Institute for Justice found more than 400 instances of threatened or actual condemnations for private profit in Ohio cities in just a five-year period from 1998 through 2002.

“We are elated that the Ohio Supreme Court is taking our case, and we hope that it will protect our right to keep and live in the home we cherish,” said Joy Gamble. “Every citizen deserves to be protected from what happened to us; no one should lose their home just because a private developer wants it.”

Last week, the Ohio Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the issue of whether Anderson could bulldoze the Gambles’ home and Mr. Horney’s rental home while their appeals are pending before that court. A decision on that issue is not expected for several months.