Seal Takes Eminent Domain Issue To Nashville

Governor Bill Haslam recently signed into law Senate Bill 1184, enacting new law and amending existing law to protect land owners from abusive property takings under Title 29 and other statutes governing eminent domain (condemnation). The bill accomplishes three very important points of protection for land owners in Tennessee, 1) it deletes the “industrial parks” exception for takings under 29-17-102 (E), eliminating the provision under which cities and counties can condemn private property for the development of industrial parks under the definition of “public use”, and 2) provides that any property taken must fall under the strict definition of “public use” as defined by T.C.A. 29-17-102, which references the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution, and 3) requires the condemning government body to compensate land owners for engineering fees, appraisal costs, and in certain circumstances, legal fees that may be the result of a condemnation action. Roads, transportation projects, and utilities are exempt from these costs.

Jefferson County Commission enacted Resolution 2016-43 in September of last year, which called for the State of Tennessee to examine eminent domain law and amend or enact new law to protect citizens from abusive property takings. In that resolution, language specifically called for state law makers to strictly define “public use”, protect land owners from financial harm where eminent domain is used, tax the cost of appraisals to the condemning body, and to eliminate property takings by condemnation for the purposes of “private economic development”. Senate Bill 1184 as enacted accomplished these goals, plus one. The General Assembly went further, adding two provisions, including a section that will compensate land owners for engineering fees and in certain cases, legal fees. In the committee process, the issue of valuation was considered but later amended out.

Jefferson County Commissioner David Seal, District 9, authored and moved the county resolution calling on state lawmakers to protect property rights based on several sources of information and citizen concern, including model legislation provided by Managing Attorney Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice, written statements made by U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day OcOnnor and Clarence Thomas in their Kelo vs New London Dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens opinion of the court in Kelo, and from concerns expressed by the land owners of Jefferson County, who believe their private property will be the target of capricious and arbitrary takings by government in future development activities. Many citizens and scholars believe that condemnation of private property by government for the direct benefit of private industry is unconstitutional and unwarranted by the 5th Amendment. SB1184 is a bill enacted to address these issues and to protect private land owners.

State law makers that were instrumental in the process of enacting this new law to protect private property are: Representative John Forgety (R) Athens, House Sponsor; Representative Andrew Farmer (R) Sevierville, House Sponsor; Senator Frank Niceley (R) Strawberry Plains, Senate Sponsor; Senator Janice Bowling (R) Tullahoma, Senate Co-Sponsor; and Senator Dolores Gresham (R) Somerville, Senate Co-Sponsor. Representative Mike Carter (R) Ooltewah, Chair of the House Civil Justice Sub-Committee was instrumental in providing guidance on the House version of the bill.

Source: David Seal, Jefferson County, Tennessee Commissioner