Missouri Supreme Court Decision Allow Small Cities to Condemn Property for Development:

Tim Sandefur of the Pacific Legal Foundation has a post discussing today's Missouri Supreme Court eminent domain decision, which holds that small cities in that state have the power to condemn property for transfer to private developers (much like the takings upheld under the federal constitution in Kelo v. City of New London). The decision is based on Missouri statutory law and doesn't reach the question of whether economic development takings are forbidden by the state constitution. Sandefur and the PLF represented the property owner in the case.

I'm not sure whether the decision is correct under Missouri law. The dissenting justice makes a good point in noting that in Missouri (as in many other states) ambiguities in eminent domain law are supposed to be resolved in favor of the property owner. The government is not allowed to take property unless it can cite a statute clearly giving it the power to do so. However, it's possible that the relevant Missouri statute is so clear that the majority's decision is still correct.

I will, say, however, that this case only arose in the first place because Missouri is one of numerous states that have enacted post-Kelo "reform" laws that claim to ban economic development takings, but actually fail to do so.

arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Is there model legislation for Kelo reform with teeth?
It might be possible to use the case as a reason to introduce a bill, and, with elections coming up, get the members of the legislature on record about their position.
Numerous counsel on both sides, but it was JoAnn T. Sandifer
versus Timothy S. Sandefur. Distant cousins?
3.20.2008 2:07am
We might be getting that model legislation soon. There's a petition going around for some amendments to the constitution. I e-mailed once to see if someone here would be interested in taking a look at it, haven't seen anything yet.
3.20.2008 3:51am
Ohio Revised Code 163 has had a post Kelo reform that has had some teeth. In Norwood v. Horney 110 Ohio St. 3d 353 (2006) the court struck down part of the statute, but kept the no purely economic takings section (they struck down a clause limiting judicial review on sep. of powers). Further, the court also found under the Ohio Constitution that the takings clause there did not allow a taking based on economic benefit to the community alone.
3.20.2008 7:36am
mga (mail):
This decision is a no-brainer. Article VI section 21 of the Missouri Constitution provides that "[l]aws may be enacted" to deal with blight. Section 99.820, R.S.Mo., allows any municipality in the state to declare areas blighted, provide a plan to redevelop them, and use eminent domain if necessary.

I don't dispute that developers can and do abuse such statutes. But the remedy is not to outlaw all condemnation by any municipality other than constitutional charter ones, which is what the dissent proposed.

Full disclosure: Joann Sandifer, who worte the city's brief, is my law partner.
3.20.2008 12:17pm
M. Slonecker (mail):

And the definition under Missouri law of "blight" is...?
3.20.2008 1:24pm
mga (mail):
It varies depending on the statute. The definition of "blighted area" for this project is "an area which, by reason of the predominance of defective or inadequate street layout, unsanitary or unsafe conditions, deterioration of site improvements, improper subdivision or obsolete plannng, or the existence of conditions which endanger life or property by fire and other causes, or any combination of such factors, retards the provision of housing accommodations or constitutes an economic or social liability or a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare in its present condition and use." 99.805(1), R.S.Mo.
3.20.2008 2:32pm
TomH (mail):
That definition of "blight" would seem to mean anything you want it to mean. Esp. "obsolete planning" (any neighborhood developed prior to Euclid, maybe?
3.20.2008 5:32pm
Gideon Kanner (mail):
You got it, TomH. What did you think today's redevelopment is all about? Wait til you find out about TIFs and "land write-downs."
3.20.2008 6:47pm
TIF as in Tax Incerement Financing? Not sure thats relevant to condemnation unless the acronym jumble in my head has gone awry..
3.21.2008 6:49pm