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Town of Lodi, NJ, Loses Eminent Domain Case; Vows Appeal

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posted on Nov, 23 2005 @ 11:24 PM
This is another one of those Eminent Domain cases, where a city or town seeks to garnishee property on the premise that the greater social good will be done. In this case, the town lost and the little guy won, but that is not the reason for the story. The thing that struck me as a pure work of art was the logic and reasoning used by the ruling judge in this case.

The litigants in this case were the Defendant(s), represented by the Town of Lodi, NJ who together with a group of planners and businessmen formed Lodi 46 Renewal LLC.

The Plaintiff(s) were represented by the owners of the Costa and Brown trailer parks, which house about 500 people combined. They had sued a decision by the town which would have targeted the trailer parks for redevelopment under the state's Eminent Domain clause. The plan would have generated approximately $3 million in tax revenue from a gated senior community with 250 housing units and 112,000 square feet of retail space. The two trailer parks combined currently generate about $250,000 in tax revenues, so financially, the plan made good sense.

Sitting in judgement of these facts was Superior Court Judge Richard Donohue. After listening to arguments from both sides, he ruled against the Town of Lodi and in favor of the owners of the trailer parks. He used sound reasoning to reach his decision. Here are some clips from his ruling:

He ruled that Lodi cannot condemn the trailer parks and that the redevelopment proposal is "vague."

Ok, so what was "vague" about the redevelopment plan?

He said that while the borough may have proposed a plan classified as a "public purpose" required by state eminent domain laws, its planners failed to prove the trailer park land is either obsolete, underutilized or meets other criteria necessary to be considered for redevelopment, and, "In short, there was a complete lack of detailed specific proofs as to why the property should be designated as in need of redevelopment".

Aha! So the judge let the town know that common good by itself is not enough reason to take somebody's property from them. The town also has the burden of proving that the land is not being used responsibly, due to neglect or other reasons. This goes a long way towards leveling the playing field in these Eminent Domain cases, in my opinion.

And finally, to prove that his decision was not based on politics:

(Lodi Mayor Gary) Paparozzi said yesterday that the borough is a victim of the uproar over eminent domain generated by the U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo vs. City of New London, Conn., decision earlier this year. In that case, the court ruled, 5-4, that municipalities have broad power to condemn people's property in favor of private development to generate tax revenue.

In his ruling, Donohue said the Kelo decision also precludes any state from placing further restrictions on eminent domain powers. He said he based his decision on New Jersey's statutes, which are stricter than Connecticut's.

Further, Donohue said he did not intend to judge New Jersey's statute or Lodi's political motives.

"This court's role is not to determine whether the actions taken by Lodi are sound decisions or effective governance, but rather, if Lodi has acted in accordance with the law," Donohue wrote in his decision.

So, he didn't judge the law, or whether the towns' decision was based on good governance. They are what they are. His decision was based soley on whether the town followed the law, whether it be a good law or a bad one.

So, that's it. Why did this story catch my eye? It was because of the principles the judge used to reached his decision.

There are far too many cases of poor performance by our judges in this country. From the infamous reversals of lower courts by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to a Minnesota judge who frees a convicted child molestor on low bail resulting in 4 more murders, a week does not go by without hearing of another case of poor adjudication, or of "legislating from the bench".

In this case, the judge did his job without oversteppping his bounds. And his reasons were sound, imo. Reading about this case was a refreshing change from so much bad news these days and was worth sharing.


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