Institute for Justice To Represent Riviera Beach Homeowners In Eminent Domain Lawsuit

John Kramer
John Kramer · June 12, 2006

Arlington, Va.—Today the Institute for Justice announced that it will represent homeowners in Riviera Beach in challenging the City’s power to use eminent domain to take property for its massive private development project.

Riviera Beach’s 2001 plan calls for replacing the homes of as many as 6,000 residents, as well as many small businesses, with a yachting complex, luxury housing and other private commercial uses. “Riviera Beach represents one of the largest and most blatant abuses of eminent domain in the country,” said Dana Berliner, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. “Its plan to transfer valuable waterfront property to private developers is illegal and un-American.”

In last year’s now-infamous case of Kelo v. New London, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the U.S. Constitution allows the taking of property for private economic development, but it also pointed out that states may offer more protection. The Florida legislature did just that and on May 4, 2006, passed a statute to prohibit such takings. Governor Bush signed the law on May 11, 2006. But Riviera Beach’s City Council voted on the night of May 10, 2006, to authorize signing an agreement to agree with developer Viking Harbor Inlet Properties that the City would use eminent domain to take property for the project. Riviera Beach’s Mayor has already announced that the City plans to argue that Florida’s new law does not apply to Riviera Beach.

IJ’s lawsuit will establish that any use of eminent domain for the project would violate both Florida’s new law prohibiting eminent domain for private development and Florida’s Constitution. “The Florida Supreme Court has not heard a case about eminent domain for private development in more than 30 years. Florida residents and businesses need to know if the Florida Constitution allows private property to be taken merely for upscale housing and businesses,” Berliner added.

The City’s actions last month—voting to press forward with the project and announcing that it would do so despite any new law in Florida—show that the threat is not going away. That’s why the Institute for Justice has stepped in. Princess Wells, who lives in the Riviera Beach home she built with her family 23 years ago, said, “We want to know that we will be able to keep our homes in peace and not have to be fearful of our city taking them away from us. We want to know that we’re safe.”

Pacific Legal Foundation’s Florida office, known as the Atlantic Center, filed a lawsuit today on behalf of local taxpayers seeking to enjoin the City from spending public money in connection with its illegal eminent domain effort for the purpose of redevelopment. Last week, two area owners brought suit under Florida’s sunshine act.

“Homeowners, taxpayers and advocates of open government are joining together to stop Riviera Beach from abusing eminent domain,” explained Chip Mellor, IJ president and general counsel. “Together, we will ensure Riviera Beach politicians follow Florida law and the Florida Constitution.”