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Susette Kelo et al. v. City of New London et al.
Susette Kelo, et al v. City of New London, et al, more commonly Kelo v. New London, is a land use law case argued before the United States Supreme Court on February 22, 2005. The case dealt with the limits of eminent domain, the government's right to take private property for public use.
The case was first heard at the appellate level in the Supreme Court of Connecticut . The Supreme Court of Connecticut found that the use of eminent domain for economic development (the central focus of the case) did not violate the public use clauses of the state and federal constitutions. The court found that if an economic project creates new jobs, increases tax and other city revenues, and revitalizes and depressed (even if not blighted) urban area, it qualifies as a public use. The court also found that government delegation of eminent domain power to a private entity was also constitutional as long as the private entity served as the legally authorized agent of the government.
The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider questions last raised in 1954 in Berman v. Parker . Namely, does the Fifth Amendment protect landowners from the use of eminent domain for economic development, rather than, as in Berman, for the elimination of slums and blight.
The city of New London, Connecticut had by the early 2000s fallen on hard economic times. The city's tax base and population were continually decreasing, and city leaders were growing desperate for some form of economic development. In 1998, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer began construction of a major research facility on the outskirts of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London. Seeing an opportunity, the city of New London created the New London Development Corporation, a private entity under the control of the city government, to consider plans to redevelop the Fort Trumbull neighborhood and encourage new economic activities that might be brought in by the Pfizer plant.
The development corporation created a development plan that included a resort hotel and conference center, a new state park, 80-100 new residences, and various research, office, and retail space. The plan divided the area into six parcels, but did not specify the exact plans for development in any but the first parcel (the resort hotel and conference center). The city in 2000 approved the development plan and authorized the corporation to acquire land in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood.
Fort Trumbull was an older neighborhood, some 90 acres in size and including 115 residential and commercial lots. The development corporation offered to purchase all 115 lots; however, 15 of the landowners did not wish to sell to the corporation. Among these 15 landowners were the lead plaintiff in this case, Susette Kelo, who owned a small home on the Thames River in the development area.
The city of New London chose to exercise its right of eminent domain. The city ordered the development corporation, a private entity acting as the city's legally appointed agent, to condemn the 15 holdout owners' lots.
The owners sued the city in Connecticut courts, arguing that the city had misused its eminent domain power. This power extends from the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which says in part that "private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation." Kelo et al argued that economic development, the stated purpose of the Development Corporation, did not qualify as public use.
This case was the first major eminent domain case heard at the Supreme Court in over forty years. In that time, states and municipalities had slowly extended their use of eminent domain, frequently to include economic development purposes. In the Kelo case, there was an additional twist in that the development corporation was ostensibly a private entity; thus the plaintiffs argued that it was not constitutional for the government to take private property from one individual or corporation and give it to another, simply because the other might put the property to a use that would generate higher tax revenue.
The first eminent domain case since Berman to reach the Supreme Court, Kelo became the focus of vigorous discussion and attracted numerous supporters on both sides. Some 40 amicus curiae briefs were filed in the case, 25 on behalf of the petitioners.
The case was argued on February 22, 2005; no decision has yet been handed down. The case was heard by only seven members of the court with Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor presiding, as Chief Justice William Rehnquist was recuperating from medical treatment at home and Associate Justice John Paul Stevens was delayed on his return to Washington from Florida; both men read the briefs and oral argument transcripts and will participate in the case decision.
- Full text of the decision courtesy of Findlaw.com
- Text of the lower court decision
- The Supreme Court Docket for the case and list of amicus briefs
- Transcript of the oral argument in this case
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