Washington, D.C.—Less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that eminent domain for private profit is constitutional under the U.S. Constitution, the Institute for Justice will ask the Ohio Supreme Court to accept a case that could rein in eminent domain abuse and protect Ohio homeowners under state law.
“With this case, the Ohio Supreme Court has a prime opportunity to do what the U.S. Supreme Court refused to do—protect home and small business owners from eminent domain abuse,” said Bert Gall, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is representing the Norwood property owners for free. “The U.S. Supreme Court said states are free to provide greater protection to 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.”
IJ will file papers today asking the state’s High Court to review a decision by the Hamilton County Court of Appeals that said it was okay for the City of Norwood to condemn Carl and Joy Gamble’s home of 35 years—along with the rental home owned by small businessman Joe Horney—so private developer Jeffrey Anderson can add new chain stores, condominiums and office space to his $500,000,000 real estate empire.
Using a “study” initiated and paid for by Anderson after he chose the Gambles’ neighborhood for his development, Norwood declared the well-kept neighborhood “deteriorating” so that 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 individual homes and businesses.
“The study is a sham, and the City has defined ‘deteriorating’ so broadly, it could include practically any residential neighborhood in America,” added Gall. “That kind of vague definition opens the door to widespread abuse. If a city can arbitrarily designate a normal neighborhood ‘deteriorating’ in order to give it to a wealthy, politically-connected developer, your home or small business could be next.”
Should the Ohio Supreme Court accept the Gambles’ appeal, it would be the most important eminent domain case the 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 by Ohio cities in just a five-year-period.
“We are looking forward to our case being heard by the state’s highest court,” said Joy Gamble. “We are hopeful they will uphold our right—and the rights of all Ohioans—to keep and live in the home we love.”
Last week, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s eminent domain ruling, IJ and its Castle Coalition grassroots arm launched a $3 million nationwide Hands Off My Home campaign to end eminent domain abuse through state court litigation and grassroots activism. Citizens can learn how to help at www.castlecoalition.org