A Florida family won a minor victory in 2017 in a long legal battle against the city of Cape Coral over an eminent domain land purchase that began in 2014. While the family expects legal arguments may continue, the City Council agreed to drop the matter and purchase a nearby parcel. The case represents hope for landowners who may be facing eminent domain and a reminder that opposing unfair takings does have a chance of success.
In 2014, the Cape Coral City Council tried to purchase a 5-acre piece of property in order to install an irrigation storage tank and pumping facility. They offered $330,000 for the property, but the owners argued that the property was worth much more. Unable to negotiate a purchase, the city council attempted to use eminent domain law to forcibly acquire the land. This attempt ultimately failed when the landowners strongly opposed it. The city voted to purchase a neighboring parcel to save on legal costs.
The U.S. Constitution permits a governmental body to purchase private land deemed necessary for public use or services even if the owners do not agree to sell. The government generally has broad rights to impose this law on landowners, but it is still held to certain regulations and expectations. For example, it must offer fair market value for the land and show that the taking is necessary for the public good.
The family's legal victory demonstrates one strategy a landowner and attorney may pursue to fight eminent domain acquisition. The government may consider the overall costs of a prolonged legal dispute and opt for a cheaper alternative that does not involve use of governmental taking. An attorney may help a landowner formulate a legal strategy to either prevent a taking or reach a fairer settlement offer.