Eminent domain can be tricky to understand and even more complex when trying to navigate its legalities without legal assistance. 

Eminent domain is the right of a local, state, or federal government to seize private property for a public use. However in certain instances, private entities can use, or be the beneficiary of, eminent domain. In either case, depending on your jurisdiction, there may be additional legal requirements or safeguards put into place to assist a landowner subject to such an acquisition.  

Private companies can acquire property via eminent domain through one of two ways: by exercising inherent or delegated eminent domain authority (utility companies, generally) or by being the recipient of lands acquired by an entity with eminent domain authority (redevelopment commissions, generally).

If you find yourself in the middle of an eminent domain battle, knowing your rights and legal options as a landowner is essential. The lawyers at Sever Storey Walker will help you understand your unique situation. In some instances, you might even be able to fight the use of eminent domain altogether.

When Can Private Companies Use Eminent Domain?

Depending on the state, a private company might be able to exercise eminent domain authority if they are delegated this authority. The most common situation where a private company exercises eminent domain is when pipeline or other utility companies seek to build infrastructure. As a private company facing eminent domain from another private company, you might be asking yourself, “When can a private company use eminent domain, and can my company fight the claim?”

Whether a private company can exercise eminent domain authority generally depends on whether that private company has been specifically delegated this authority by law, the state, and/or another decision-making governmental body (FERC, local utility commissions, etc.). If a utility company does not have this ability as a matter of law, it may have to demonstrate to the state that whatever project they are building meets the definition of “public use” prior to receiving, and thus exercising, eminent domain authority.

The other situation wherein a private entity may be able to acquire land from a landowner via eminent domain is when an entity already bestowed with eminent domain (the state, a city, etc.) utilizes that ability to acquire private property and transfer it to another, private, entity. Generally, this is done through redevelopment commissions and is exercised to increase an area’s tax base. Most states have specific laws put in place in these very specific situations and often mandate that those lands subject to this type of “private to private” eminent domain meet a definition of “blight” prior to being acquired under eminent domain. Additionally, some jurisdictions impose further restrictions on this type of eminent domain, such as requiring payment of 150% just compensation, as opposed to the traditional 100%. 

When a private company, such as a pipeline or powerline, wants your land, it is imperative that you have an attorney who understands what they can and cannot do. With the right attorneys in your corner, you may be able to demonstrate that the company did not follow the law in attempting to seize your land.

Eminent Domain Laws By State

There are two types of procedures a condemnor may follow in seeking to acquire land under eminent domain: state or federal. Federal procedure is generally limited to federal condemnors (the United States government and agencies and interstate natural gas pipelines, generally), and state procedure is limited to state level condemnors (states, state agencies, cities, municipalities, utility companies with delegated authority). Each state has its own rules and regulations, so the State of Georgia may utilize eminent domain differently than the State of California

These types of differences from state to state apply to private companies seeking to acquire property through eminent domain as well. Each state is different, and while some states are very stringent about private entities using eminent domain, others are lax.

With representation available across the US, the eminent domain attorneys at Sever Storey can review your case and walk you through potential next steps, depending on your specific location.

Restrictions for Private Companies 

Just as there are sizable limitations on when the government can use the power of eminent domain, there are restrictions for private companies who want to use it as well.

For example, if a national energy company like Columbia Gas, EQT, and/or TallGrass Energy wishes to acquire your property to put in a natural gas pipeline but does not have eminent domain authority, via statute or delegation, they may not have the ability to take your property (despite telling you otherwise). This situation would require a full analysis of the project and the relevant law.

This situation gets even more complex when a governmental entity seeks to acquire your property to then transfer to a private entity. If a redevelopment commission approaches you about your property, you should contact an attorney immediately.

Professional and Skilled Eminent Domain Attorneys

The best way to ensure you are either being fairly compensated for your land—or are being adequately defended—is by working with a law firm with the utmost knowledge and professionalism. 

When it comes to holding users of eminent domain accountable, our attorneys are ready to take on whatever the situation is: pipeline, private entity, municipality, or any other exercise of eminent domain. When you become a client, we vow to fight for you each step of the way.  

If you have any questions regarding eminent domain for your business, contact our lawyers at Sever Storey Walker. They will ensure you are as well-informed as possible and help you expertly fight your case.