Kelo v. New London,
125 S.Ct. 2655 (2005)

Case Details:

In this case, the United States Supreme Court considered the issue of whether the condemnation of private property for economic development purposes satisfies the “public use” requirement of the Fifth Amendment, made applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.

Here, the City of New London Connecticut wished to condemn private, mostly waterfront property to put in a new hotel, office park, marina and residential development in the hopes of increasing jobs and tax revenues following the closure of a local U.S. naval base. Several property owners refused to sell their homes, so the City initiated condemnation proceedings against them. The property owners challenged the project arguing, among other things, the condemnations were not for a public use within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment.

In a five to four decision reaffirming the principle that States are entitled to great deference in deciding what constitutes a valid public use, the Supreme Court affirmed the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision, which had validated the project.

In this case, a majority of the Supreme Court concluded the project satisfied the “public use” provision of the Fifth Amendment, reasoning that (i) local and state officials determined the area to be “sufficiently distressed to justify a program of economic rejuvenation,” and (ii) the corresponding development plan was “carefully considered” and “not adopted to benefit a particular class of identifiable individuals.”

Notably, the majority also rejected a proposed “bright line” rule that would have prohibited all purely economic development based condemnations. Similarly, the Court rejected the view that a court must find a “reasonable certainty that the expected public benefits will actually accrue.”

Moreover, in a signal to the States that they were free to pass more stringent eminent domain measures, the Supreme Court opined, “nothing in our opinion precludes any State from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power.”

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