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September 28th, 2015 — By — In Articles

Recent New York Condemnation Case Highlights Key Issues for Owners Seeking to Protect Their Property

A recent decision from New York highlights many of the key arguments that eminent domain attorneys can raise on behalf of their landowner clients in cases involving eminent domain. Although the property owners in this case were unsuccessful in their attempt to dismiss the taking, the arguments are instructive for property owners considering taking action to protect their legal rights.

New York City Pursues Harlem Urban Renewal Plan Through Condemnation

While the court issued its Decision and Order August 13, 2015, the case began in 2008 when New York City authorized the Harlem Urban Renewal Plan and sought to condemn four parcels of land in connection with it. The case is In the Matter of City of New York, Fifteenth Amended Harlem-E. Harlem Urban Renewal Plan (East 125th Street), Stage 1.

Under New York’s Eminent Domain Procedure Law (“EDPL”), the City held a public hearing regarding the proposed taking of the 4 properties, made determinations and findings, and then published its findings.  .The owners sought to invalidate the City’s determination and findings appealing to New York’s Appellate Division, which denied the Petition to Annul.

The Appellate Division found that the City had complied with the requirements of the EDPL, all due process of law obligations were met, the taking was for a public benefit and that the owners had not put forth a valid argument to invalidate the determination and findings.

The landowners appealed to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, which dismissed their appeal on February 17, 2011, holding that the City’s efforts to obtain the parcels had been fully compliant with the Constitution and EDPL. This date is central in the most recent decision.

For reasons unknown, the City did not file a Petition to Condemn the properties until February 12, 2014 – almost three years after the Court of Appeals’ decision. Upon receiving notice of condemnation, the property owners filed a Verified Answer seeking dismissal of the Petition.

The Property Owners’ Arguments Challenging Eminent Domain

In an attempt to dismiss the taking, condemnation lawyers on behalf of the property owners raised no less than nine different legal arguments. Three of these related to the “public purpose” of the condemnation and the socioeconomic effects it would have on the area:

  • The City had failed to articulate a valid public purpose the exercise of eminent domain; Condemnation would harm minority-owned businesses and minority jobs; and
  • The proposed housing for which the parcels were needed would promote gentrification without any benefit to the current minority population.

The landowners also alleged that:

  • The Petition to Condemn was barred by the EDPL’s three-year statute of limitations;
  • The City engaged in “schemes and machinations” and is guilty of “unclean hands;”
  • The City failed to comply with the procedural requirements for exercising eminent domain under the EDPL;
  • The City had not effected proper notice of the condemnation; and
  • Equitable relief based upon foregoing defenses.

Court Rules Against Property Owners Given the Facts of the Case

Despite the efforts of their eminent domain attorneys, the court ruled against the property owners, addressing each one of their arguments in turn. The argument receiving the most attention was the property owners’ claim that the three-year statute of limitations barred condemnation of their property.

Under New York’s EDPL section 207, condemnors are required to begin condemnation proceedings within three years of “entry of a final order or judgment on judicial review.” Other states have similar statutes of limitations as well.

Given that the Court of Appeals dismissed the property owners’ appeal on February 17, 2011, the court held that the City complied with the statute of limitations by filing its petition for condemnation on February 12, 2014. However, under a different set of facts, the court stated that it was “clear” that the City’s condemnation petition would have been improper.

As this case demonstrates, under the right circumstances, property owners may have grounds to challenge the exercise of eminent domain.

Thank you to the blog “Bulldozers at Your Doorstep” produced by Manhattan-based eminent domain law firm Goldstein, Rikon, Rikon & Houghton for highlighting this case in their August 24, 2015 post here.  [Disclosure: Michael Rikon of the firm is the OCA Member for New York.]