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What Are Some Examples of Public Use in Eminent Domain?


The federal government cannot use its power of eminent domain to acquire property unless it is for public use. Unfortunately, the definition of public use is not well defined. “Anything which is meant to enrich the lives of people who reside, visit, and work in the area” can be claimed as public use.

Other terms for public use include public benefit, public advantage, and even public employment. Because the definition is so loose, the best way to understand public use in eminent domain cases is to look at examples.

Historical Examples of Eminent Domain

Historically, public use in eminent domain cases has included:

  • Transportation
  • Infrastructure
  • Water supply
  • Irrigation projects
  • Public buildings
  • Public parks
  • Environmental protection
  • Conservation efforts
  • Historical preservation
  • Military readiness

Many of the United States’ most beloved National parks are the result of eminent domain. In other famous eminent domain cases, the government seized property to build a post office and customs house (Kohl v. United States in 1876) and preserve the site of the Battle of Gettysburg (United States v. Gettysburg Electric Railroad Company in 1896).

Modern Uses of Eminent Domain

Today, the government typically uses eminent domain to build schools, roads, parks, and other public projects, as well as pipelines, power lines, and other utilities.

The ‘Kelo v. City of New London’ Controversy

Controversially, the United States Supreme Court also authorized the government to consider commercial developments as public use in Kelo v. City of New London in 2005, so long as the projects benefit the community via tax revenue, jobs, or other economic development.

Sometimes, the government believes a project will benefit a community, but the community itself disagrees. Other times, the government seizes privately owned property, but private developers abandon their projects. In the New London, Connecticut development, for example, the city of New London purchased and demolished the plaintiffs’ homes, and Pfizer ran out of money and walked away.

At the time of writing, the contested land remains a vacant, undeveloped lot.

Local Examples of Eminent Domain

Allen, Semelsberger & Kaelin LLP is located in San Diego, California.

Recently, the nearby Inglewood City Council authorized eminent domain to clear space for the future Clippers basketball arena. Many residents and advocacy groups contested Inglewood City Council’s decision but were powerless to stop the city’s purchase of 22 acres of land.

Our firm sees many similar situations in and around our San Diego offices. For nearly three decades, we have represented clients in complex eminent domain matters and brought in great results.

While there is little that we can do to stop eminent domain, we can help you determine the value of your property and business and get the highest possible compensation in your eminent domain case.

We proudly served as special counsel for condemnation matters relating to Petco Park and on many of San Diego’s most crucial utility projects.

If you are facing eminent domain, please do not hesitate to call us at (888) 998-2031 or contact us online for assistance.