One of the strongest powers granted to state, federal and local governments under the federal and state constitutions is the power of eminent domain. The power of eminent domain allows a governmental entity to take private property from its citizens for public use. Eminent domain is often used by the government to acquire property to construct roads, bridges or other public improvements. However, Ohio courts have also permitted governmental entities to take private property for more controversial “public uses” such as to build governmental-owned sports stadiums and to redevelop neighborhoods deemed by the government to be blighted areas.
Most property owners’ first question when faced with an eminent domain proceeding is, what can I do to stop it? Due to Ohio’s broad definition of what constitutes a “public use”, in most cases you will not be able to stop your property from being taken by eminent domain. However, Ohio and federal law do require that the government pay the property owner “just compensation” for the property it is seeking to acquire. Under Ohio law, “just compensation” is defined as the fair market value of the property which is measured by the price the property would sell at a voluntary sale on the open market. In addition, when the government is only taking a portion of a property, the property owner may also be entitled to be compensated for damage sustained to its remaining property as a result of the take.
Often times the government’s determination of the fair value of the property being taken and/or the amount of damages owed to the property owner is significantly less than the actual fair market value of the property as determined by an independent appraiser. In these situations, if the government and the property owner cannot agree on the amount of compensation to be paid, the amount is determined by a jury in a trial most commonly held in the Probate Court in the county in which the property is located.
The attorneys in this practice group have represented commercial, industrial and residential property owners throughout northeastern Ohio to ensure that they receive fair market value and appropriate damages when their property is taken by eminent domain. The legal services we provide to our clients faced with an eminent domain proceeding include the following:
- Consulting with our clients and our experts to determine the difference between the government’s determination of fair market value and damages as a result of the take and the actual amount of fair market value and damages;
- Analyzing whether there is damage to our clients’ residual property in the event of a partial take;
- Reviewing and responding to the initial good faith offer submitted to the property owner by the taking authority;
- Consulting with and engaging the necessary experts in various fields to write expert reports and, if necessary, to testify at trial, including land use experts and certified appraisers; and
- Representing clients in alternative dispute resolution proceedings relating to eminent domain claims such as mediations and arbitrations;
- When appropriate, representing clients at the necessity hearing before the court in order to challenge the government’s right to take the property for a valid public use; and
- Representing clients in eminent domain cases in jury trials and in any appeals resulting from jury trials.
Notable eminent domain cases that Dworken & Bernstein have been involved with include the taking of several properties by the City of Eastlake, Ohio for the Lake County Captain’s Stadium now known as Classic Park, many eminent domain cases involving the acquisition of properties by the Ohio Department of Transportation and other municipalities for roadways, the taking of the Mentor Lagoon properties by the City of Mentor, and many others.
An eminent domain proceeding is a complicated process that significantly impacts the rights of property owners. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having your property involuntarily taken through the process of eminent domain, the attorneys at Dworken & Bernstein can help to ensure that you will be paid the amount you are rightfully owed under Ohio law.