Eminent domain is the power of entities (usually government agencies or utilities) to acquire private property for a public use. While some acquisitions resolve prior to this authority being exercised, often these entities will have no choice but to utilize their eminent domain power to acquire property.

This authority is exercised through the court system. If a pre-litigation deal cannot be reached between the condemnor and the landowner, the condemnor will seek judicial authority (almost certainly through the court system of the county where the property is located) to “condemn” the property and take it via court order. This is only the beginning of the court’s involvement, however.

1. Determining Eminent Domain Authority

If a landowner’s case reaches litigation, the court’s preliminary determination will be to decide whether the entity seeking to acquire the property has the ability to do so. In other words, the entity will have to demonstrate to the court that it is vested with the ability to forcibly acquire the property sought. This traditionally includes a recitation of the condemnation procedure and a showing by the putative condemnor that it has followed that procedure.

Disputing or fighting a condemnor’s eminent domain authority is not a simple difficult. The landowner will have to show the court that the condemnor did not follow proper condemnation procedure and/or the purpose of the acquisition is not for a “public use.” A landowner interested in contesting the acquisition should contact an eminent domain attorney immediately to evaluate whether a justifiable challenge to a condemnor’s authority can be raised.

2. Calculating Just Compensation in Court

A local county court will not only determine, or affirm, the eminent domain authority of the entity seeking to acquire the property, it will also eventually and if necessary, determine exactly what compensation a landowner is entitled to for that acquisition. Every landowner is guaranteed a trial by jury over the issue of “just compensation” for the acquisition of private property in non-federal eminent domain actions. This means that regardless of what a condemnor may tell a landowner, that landowner is entitled to present his or her opinion on just compensation to a jury of his or her peers if he or she chooses to do so. This right is enshrined in the Fifth Amendment if the U.S. Constitution.

While very few eminent domain cases actually reach a jury trial, some do, and while a landowner is generally permitted to testify on the value of its property, a well-prepared landowner will also have a licensed, qualified, experienced, eminent domain appraiser available to testify as to the just compensation owed. Hiring the right appraiser can make the difference between winning and losing your case, and an experienced eminent domain attorney should know the right appraisal expert for the right property.

Get the Just Compensation You Deserve

If you’re a landowner who has received notice of eminent domain, all is not lost. Get in touch with Sever Storey today for help challenging your eminent domain case or the compensation you are owed. Our experienced attorneys have helped landowners all over the country receive greater compensation in exchange for their land—and in some rare cases, have even been able to stop an acquisition altogether. Contact us today to discuss your situation and get a free case review.