Many people have likely heard the term eminent domain used in news broadcasts or encountered it while reading the daily newspaper. As such, they likely have a general understanding that it involves the government taking someone's private property in exchange for a payment.
While this is by no means inaccurate, it is still an incomplete picture of an otherwise complex legal process. In recognition of this fact, today's post, the first in a series, will start to explain eminent domain in otherwise comprehensible terms.
Eminent domain -- An overview
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution declares in part that private property cannot "be taken for public use, without just compensation."
It's important to understand from the outset that each of these terms has a very significant meaning in the eyes of the law.
For example, the term "public use" encompasses far more than just roads and highways. Indeed, it covers almost everything approved by federal or state lawmakers from public buildings and parks to hospitals and schools.
Furthermore, the term "just compensation" is typically treated as the fair market value of a given property. What this means is that the private party from whom the property is taken will be paid the highest price the property would likely command from a present and willing seller. The process by which this fair market value is ultimately calculated is set forth by the applicable body of law.
In our next post on this topic, we'll address the significant legal meanings attached to the idea of a taking, otherwise known as expropriation or condemnation.
If you have received notice that the state or federal government has filed an action to use eminent domain to take your property, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible in order to ensure the protection of your rights and your best interests.