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North Carolina has a long-recognized requirement that an eminent domain action be for the public use and the public benefit. Recent legislative activity reflects that lawmakers have a desire to narrow the requirement through a state constitutional amendment.
The North Carolina General Assembly, House Bill 3 , is entitled: “AN ACT TO AMEND THE NORTH CAROLINA CONSTITUTION TO PROHIBIT CONDEMNATION OF PRIVATE PROPERTY EXCEPT FOR A PUBLIC USE, TO PROVIDE FOR THE PAYMENT OF JUST COMPENSATION WITH RIGHT OF TRIAL BY JURY IN ALL CONDEMNATION CASES, AND TO MAKE SIMILAR STATUTORY CHANGES.”
The proposed amendment would add a Section 19.1 to Article I  of the North Carolina Constitution. The following text would be added by the proposed measure’s approval:
“Sec. 19.1. Eminent domain. Private property shall not be taken by eminent domain except for a public use. Just compensation shall be paid and shall be determined by a jury at the request of any party.”
The amendment had overwhelming support in the N.C. House, where it passed by a vote of 113-5. Although the bill could theoretically appear on the May 3, 2016 ballot in North Carolina, the fact that the General Assembly will not reconvene for it next legislative session until April 2016 makes this unlikely. Nevertheless, landowners and legislators can continue to advocate and support this constitutional change.
Public Use and Public Benefit
The current two-part test will remain the legal standard until there is such a legislative change. The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently illustrated the current public use and benefit analysis in the case of “Town of Matthews v. Wright”, Case No. COA14-943.
The opinion of the court provides that a taking of land by a local government must be for both a public use and a public benefit. In that instance, the Town could not show a public benefit, and thus it improperly exercised its eminent domain powers. The case involved multiple legal appeals and a long saga where a municipality pursued its condemnation case based in part upon personal conflicts between the town and the landowners.
It is unclear how this case would be read in conjunction with House Bill 3, which specifically requires only “public use”, but the House Bill supporters have generally wanted to make it harder to condemn private property for a project that is not purely public. In order to allow this measure on the North Carolina ballot, it will need to make it out of the state Senate by a 60% vote. Property owners can contact their state representatives to advocate for important eminent domain reforms that will further prevent abuse of this state power and protect the rights of landowners.
Contact an experienced North Carolina eminent domain lawyer for assistance
Many people do not understand the intricate laws concerning eminent domain. If you receive a condemnation notice, determining the amount of compensation to which you are entitled can be complicated, and the skilled North Carolina eminent domain attorneys at the law office of Sever Storey, LLP can assist you in negotiations, litigation and more. Please call today at 888-318-3761 for help.
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