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Ohio Supreme Court sides with property owners

In the first eminent domain case to reach a state supreme court since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Kelo vs. New London decision, Ohio justices have halted a city’s attempt to compel property sales to make way for a private development.

The ruling in Norwood vs. Horney, announced July 26, reverses a lower court’s decision to allow the City of Norwood, Ohio, to use eminent domain authority to compel Joseph Horney and other property owners to sell their homes so that private developer Rockwood Partners could redevelop the neighborhood. A study, funded by the developer, found the area to be “deteriorating” and therefore subject to taking by the city.

Ohio Supreme Court justices ruled that the economic benefit a redevelopment would provide the community, by itself, doesn’t meet the public-use requirement of the Ohio Constitution. Further, the court deemed unconstitutional Norwood’s standard of “deteriorating” as justification for the use of eminent domain authority. The court found the term too vague and requiring speculation on the future condition of a property.

The Ohio ruling is expected to influence other states as they define their own limits for the use of eminent domain. In the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 23, 2005, opinion in Kelo vs. New London, justices voted 5-4 to uphold a Connecticut court’s opinion that the City of New London, Conn. was justified in taking several homes for a redevelopment that would boost the local economy, meeting the Fifth Amendment’s “public use” condition for enacting eminent domain powers.

However, the Court essentially invited states to tighten their own eminent domain standards. In his majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens emphasized that some states observe narrower eminent domain limitations in their state constitutions or statutes, and “nothing in our opinion precludes any state from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power.”

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