Arlington, Va.—“Your money or your property” may soon become the mantra of politically connected developers nationwide as the result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement today that it will not consider the appeal of an eminent domain case involving attempted private extortion.
The case the Court declined to review arose out of the Village of Port Chester, N.Y., one of the nation’s worst eminent domain abusers. The Village’s chosen developer approached property owner Bart Didden and his business partner with an offer they couldn’t refuse. Because Didden planned to build a CVS on his property—land the developer coveted for a Walgreens—the developer demanded that Didden either pay him $800,000 to make him “go away” or give him an unearned 50 percent stake in the CVS development. If Didden refused, the developer would have the Village of Port Chester condemn the land for his private use. Didden rejected the bold-faced extortion. The very next day, the Village of Port Chester condemned Didden’s property through eminent domain so it could hand it over to the developer who made the threat.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals approved this extortion scheme using eminent domain under the Kelo decision, a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled eminent domain could be used by the government for private development—handing over one person’s home or small business to a developer who merely promises to pay more taxes or create more jobs with the land. The 2nd Circuit ruled that because this is taking place in a “redevelopment zone,” it couldn’t stop what the Village is doing.
“This abuse will only grow worse until the courts do their job and set some limits on government’s power of eminent domain,” said Dana Berliner, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represents Didden and represented the Kelo property owners. “The Court wrote in Kelo that ‘conferring a private benefit on a particular private party’ would still violate the Constitution. Well, here was that exact case—where a developer was trying to use eminent domain to extort cash from a property owner; about as private a benefit as it gets—and yet they punted. The Court will have to review an eminent domain case sometime soon, and the Institute for Justice intends to pursue this area of litigation until the rights of property owners are fully protected from this abuse of power.”
Didden expressed disappointment with the government officials responsible for protecting his rights. “What really surprised me about this whole ordeal was the total lack of concern my situation earned from the Village politicians, to the County District Attorney’s office, all the way into the federal courts. A private citizen using the government’s power is extorting me. And the government that should protect my rights is nowhere to be found. If anything, the government is making this extortion possible.”