Victory for Boxing Gym in Eminent Domain Bout:California Court of Appeals Unanimously Reverses Lower Court

John Kramer
John Kramer · January 22, 2009

Arlington, Va.—There will be no technical knock out on the issue of eminent domain against a Southern California gym that serves at-risk kids.

Today, the California Court of Appeals unanimously reversed a lower court ruling that had once derailed a major legal challenge by the National City-based Community Youth Athletic Center (CYAC) to how governments in California declare property “blighted” and pave the way for the abuse of eminent domain.  The Court of Appeals’ decision sent the case back to the trial court with instructions to allow the nonprofit CYAC to make its case that National City violated the law when it declared roughly 700 properties blighted in 2007.

“This is a victory for all Californians—not just the CYAC and other National City property owners—because it affirms the principle that courts hear cases on their merits and don’t just dismiss them on silly technicalities,” said Dana Berliner, senior attorney with the Institute for Justice (IJ), the public interest law firm representing the CYAC.

Last year, a lower court relied on a technicality to throw out the gym’s case without ever considering the case’s significant statutory and constitutional issues.  On January 13, the CYAC argued its case before the California Court of Appeals, pressing the point that citizens are entitled to bring meaningful challenges to government action without being thwarted by a minefield of ridiculous technicalities.

“We look forward to returning to the trial court where we intend to prove that National City’s bogus blight declaration and re-authorization of eminent domain violated California law and the state and federal constitutions,” said IJ Staff Attorney Jeff Rowes.  “The fact that the Court of Appeals issued its opinion barely a week after argument shows just how wrong National City was in trying to get this case kicked out.”

California redevelopment agencies are among the worst abusers of eminent domain for private development projects.  Tragically for so many rightful home and small business owners, it is remarkably difficult to successfully challenge these abuses in court because the law is rigged in the government’s favor.  National City is part of a nationwide eminent domain epidemic.  Since the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court Kelo ruling sanctioned eminent domain abuse, 56,000 properties have been threatened or seized for private gain.

“National City has become the national poster child for eminent domain abuse,” said Rowes.  “National City ignored California law in ramming through a false blight declaration targeting humble property owners across the city.  The CYAC is fighting this outrage not only for itself, but to establish precedent to protect all Californians.”

Download: California Court of Appeals Opinion January 22, 2009 (PDF)