What counts as public purpose in eminent domain cases?

On Behalf of | Aug 1, 2019 | Firm News

Eminent domain claims are often contentious. A property owner can feel like the government is violating their rights by forcing them to sell. The argument for eminent domain is that the property has to be taken in order to do something that betters the entire community.

However, what actually qualifies as bettering the community? And therefore, how do we define “public purpose?” Those are somewhat complicated questions.

Understanding public purpose

Broadly, public purpose means something that is for the safety, health, interest, or convenience of the public. That does not mean every member of the public has to use it. There are some widely accepted types of projects, such as:

  • Roads
  • Public infrastructure
  • Schools
  • Public utilities
  • Common carrier systems
  • Drainage or wastewater systems
  • A public park

In addition, Florida has a law stating that simply eliminating nuisance, blight or slum conditions does not qualify as a public purpose.

Room for interpretation

Even with these widely accepted projects, there is some room for interpretation when it comes to public purpose. This has led to disputes, and sometimes legal challenges that have further clarified what constitutes public use.

Many of the recent challenges are centered around pipelines. There are companies that, with the federal government’s blessing, are trying to seize an individual’s or family’s land in order to construct a pipeline – despite being a privately run, for-profit business.

The question is, does that meet the definition of public purpose?

These types of cases will never cease. Governments may forever try to use eminent domain for questionable projects throughout the U.S., including in Florida. If there is not a clear public purpose, there may be a way to halt the process through legal action.

Unfortunately in these instances it is the impacted property owners that suffer the most, meaning they often need someone to help defend their rights.