Eminent Domain Lawyers in PennsylvaniaAccording to a report in the Main Line Times, two landowners in Villanova, Pennsylvania, are fighting back after the Lower Merion School District voted to use eminent domain to seize their property for playing field space for a proposed middle school. The property owners, through their attorney, filed preliminary objections to the district’s plan to take their property at 1835 County Line Road.

The couple is accusing the district of abusing eminent domain by attempting to seize property when Villanova University had previously made an offer and attempting to displace them more quickly if they try to challenge its use of eminent domain.

This dispute started when the school district announced that it would use eminent domain to take the property in December 2018. When the district’s superintendent and real estate agent met with one of the property owners, the property owner allegedly showed the district’s agents a copy of an agreement for the sale of the property with Villanova University, which the property owner thought would remain confidential. Three days after the meeting, the Board of Directors met and voted to take the property through eminent domain.

The property owners allege that the reason for the swift condemnation of the property was that the law prohibits the district from using eminent domain to take property if any incorporated institution of learning, such as Villanova University, owns that property.

According to the landowner’s court filing, “LMSD abused its eminent domain authority by taking advantage of condemnee John Bennett’s confidential disclosure of his purchase agreement with Villanova that he disclosed in good faith. Condemnee John Bennett mistakenly believed LMSD was engaging in good faith negotiations.”

Eminent Domain: How Is This Legal?

When many landowners first encounter eminent domain personally, they are shocked to find out exactly how it works. When you hear about it on the news, it’s easy to think that there’s more to it than the government simply coming in and telling you that it’s going to take your land and offer you some money.

The very idea of it seems to go against everything that we learn about private property and ownership growing up in the United States. To make sense of it, it’s instructive to delve into exactly how it works.

  • Eminent domain basics. Eminent domain is the power of the government to take private property. Government agents cannot run around and take whatever property they want, however. A valid taking requires a public purpose, and the condemning authority must provide the landowner with just compensation for the property.
  • What is a public purpose? The public purpose requirement in eminent domain cases has been the source of significant dispute, even in recent years. While it’s easy to see how the construction of things like roads, schools, hospitals, libraries, or parks serve a public purpose, courts have also decided that transferring property from one private owner to a private developer can serve a public purpose because the entire community will benefit from economic activity. Because of this expansive jurisprudence, courts uphold attempted exercises of eminent domain as valid.
  • What is just compensation? Because most eminent domain actions comply with the public purpose requirement, the crux of most cases in this area of law is what exactly just compensation is in a given case. Generally speaking, just compensation is equivalent to the fair market value of a piece of property, which is the amount the property would fetch on the open market. Determining just compensation in a given case can be extremely complicated and depends on the nature of the taking and the property at issue. As a result, any landowner facing a condemnation action must consult an experienced attorney before accepting an offer for any property.

How Much Will an Eminent Domain Attorney Cost?

As a landowner whose property eminent domain could take, it’s completely understandable that you are concerned about how much it is going to cost to retain an attorney to represent you. You may even think that you could forgo retaining a lawyer and represent yourself in settlement negotiations. After all, you know how much your property is worth, right?

If you find yourself in this position, as many landowners do, remember two things: (1) it’s highly advisable to have an attorney represent you in any matter related to eminent domain, and (2) there is no way you can lose money when you retain the attorneys of Sever Storey.

How is this possible? We only charge our 33 percent fees on the amount of compensation that we are able to secure above your initial offer. If we do not increase the offer at all, you will owe us nothing for our services.

This contingency fee arrangement allows you and other clients to feel comfortable retaining an attorney to represent you, as there is no chance that you’ll incur legal fees without also seeing a benefit. It has the added incentive of reducing the risk of frivolous litigation, as attorneys are not going to take cases that lack merit. In other words, if we take your case, there’s a very good chance that we’re going to get you more compensation than the government has offered you already.

Call Sever Storey Today to Schedule a Free Case Evaluation With an Experienced Eminent Domain Attorney

If you are facing an eminent domain action that may take your property, contact an experienced eminent domain attorney as soon as you can. At Sever Storey, we have more than 25 years of combined experience representing landowners and know how to get you the just compensation you deserve. We will review the facts of your case at no cost to you and you will never obtain less compensation by working with us than you would have representing yourself. To schedule your free case evaluation with an eminent domain lawyer, call our office today at (888) 318-3761 or send us an email through our online contact form.