June 11th, 2014 — By — In News & Events
Church Fights Back Against City’s Eminent Domain Suit
For nearly a year, the City of Orlando has attempted to negotiate a voluntary acquisition of property owned by a small community church in downtown Orlando, Faith Deliverance Temple. The City of Orlando wants to build a multi-million dollar sports and entertainment arena on the very spot this church stands, only a stone’s throw from the Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic, and a mile from the Citrus Bowl.
Why, you might ask, does Orlando need another sports stadium? The City of Orlando’s Petition argues that the stadium is a necessary public project that will bring jobs, tourism and economic development to the area. Is this, however, a true public purpose?
Florida’s eminent domain laws are codified in Article X, §6 of the Florida Constitution and in Chapters 73 and 163 of the Florida General Statutes. Following the infamous 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469, the Florida Legislature acted quickly to provide greater protections for property rights.
First, the Legislature drafted a constitutional amendment which was passed by 69% of Florida voters on November 7, 2006. Article X, §6 of the Florida Constitution was amended to require a three-fifths vote of the membership of both houses of the Legislature to approve any exception to Florida’s eminent domain laws, specifically before eminent domain could be used to convey private property from one private entity to another.
The Legislature also amended Chapter 73 and 163 of the Florida Statutes (House Bill 1567, signed into law in 2006) to limit the opportunities for government abuse of the power of eminent domain. Section 73.013, specifically, prohibits the transfer of private property acquired by eminent domain to another private entity listing only a few exceptions: utilities, common carriers, entities providing public works infrastructure, road rights-of-way, or leases of incidental portions of otherwise public spaces.
“When the City of Orlando initially approached my family to negotiate a voluntary acquisition of the church’s property, we resisted because we did not want to sell. However, the City informed us that we wouldn’t have a choice as it would be using its eminent domain power to take the property,” said Jonathan Williams, son of the church’s founders.
“When it became apparent we wouldn’t reach an agreement with the City, we made inquiries about how we might fight off eminent domain. We hired attorney Andrew Brigham and made our decision to defend the church’s property rights. We would rather stay on the property and continue to use it for our church, than have it taken,” he added.
“Faith Deliverance Temple may have been a willing seller in a voluntary acquisition at a certain price,” said attorney Andrew Prince Brigham. “However, because the City was not willing to transact at that price, the church wants to defend against the City’s use of eminent domain.” [Disclosure: Andrew Brigham is the Florida member of Owners’ Counsel of America.]
Brigham added, “The City’s proposed taking is not for a public purpose. The City is simply a conduit for eminent domain to take from one private entity, a church, and transfer the use of the property to another private entity, a soccer franchise. The Constitution of the State of Florida and Florida’s Eminent Domain Code were amended in 2006 to prohibit such an abuse of power.”
Brigham noted that the City did not seek approval of the Florida Legislature before it filed its eminent domain petition nor did the Legislature list sports franchises or stadiums as exceptions to the prohibition against private transfer.
“While it may be that a new MLS franchise and soccer stadium will do tremendous things for Orlando, the City must use other means than exercising its eminent domain power to acquire the property owned by Faith Deliverance Temple,” said Brigham.
“The City’s Memorandum of Understanding and Facility Use Agreement with Orlando Sports Holdings, LLC, the MLS franchise, is prima facie evidence that the new stadium is less about the City’s ownership or control and more about the soccer club’s ownership or control.” he said. “It’s a classic example of the tail wagging the dog.”
The church, through its counsel, released a statement announcing that its leaders have retained Brigham Property Rights Law Firm and Shannon Keith Turner, P.A. to defend the church’s property rights against the City’s use of eminent domain.
The case is City of Orlando v. Faith Deliverance Temple Inc., et al, case number 2014-CA-005081-O, filed May 15, 2014 in the Circuit Court for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, Orange County, Florida.
This will be one to watch.