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Land Issue. Berman v. Parker Essay

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Updated: May 15th, 2022

In 1945, the United States Congress passed an Act that was meant to redevelop blighted areas in Columbia District. This Act is known as the District of Columbia Redevelopment Act of 1945. The Act led to the creation of the District of Columbia Redevelopment Land Agency which was tasked with the duty of identifying and redeveloping blighted areas. To minimize future blight, the Agency was given the powers to eradicate factors that led to blight (Scaros 347). The Agency had the power of eminent domain from congress to seize private property when and where necessary. However, the process of taking private property was to be done with just compensation as required by the 5th Amendment to the constitution. All this was done for the purpose of eliminating slums and at the same time upgrading urban areas.

Southwest Washington, D. C. was the first area where the Agency chose to start its action. The Agency was satisfied that there was a lot of property in the area that lacked the required basic utilities. The plaintiffs happened to have a department store in this area. As the Agency was carrying out its mandate, it seized the store of the plaintiffs. The Plaintiffs did not like the idea and thus decided to challenge the constitutionality of the Act in Court (Davidson and Robin 133). They registered their suit in the federal district court.

The plaintiffs were of the opinion that it was illegal to take their property since it was a business building and not slum housing. Similarly, they argued that the issue of taking their property and giving it to developers was tantamount to unfair treatment of one businessman for the advantage of the other thus going against the 5th Amendment to the constitution.

The case was first heard by a three-panel district court which dismissed the case. The case was dismissed on the grounds that the government could use eminent domain to take private property in cases where the taking could be justified as being necessary to prevent blight. However, serious issues were raised. Judge Prettyman was of the opinion that the crucial issue in the case was whether government could transfer private property to developers using eminent domain to clear blight in an area. In his judgment, Judge Prettyman indicated that it was justified to use eminent domain to clear shattered Structures. Nonetheless, land was viewed as a different issue altogether with intrinsically no connection to blight (Burke 47). In this regard, Judge Prettyman held that land only came into the question if it was a factor that could eradicate blight. Therefore, he held that eminent domain was not sufficient to allow taking of private property for the sole purpose of beautification of the environs.

The plaintiffs were not satisfied with the ruling of the district court and therefore filed an appeal in the United States Supreme Court. The plaintiffs again suffered another defeat in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court unanimously agreed that only a highly integrated redevelopment plan was required to deal with the problem of blight which was massive at that moment (Aalberts 535). It was the view of the court that allowing each single person to argue how his or her property should not be included in the redevelopment plan because it was used for public benefit, would stall the whole program. The court held that the congress through the Planning Commission had taken the necessary steps to address several issues under the prevailing conditions at that time. Consequently, the court issued a judicial restraint. It was in the court’s opinion that 5th Amendment to the constitution did not in any way forbid the District of Columbia from ensuring that the environment was clean. Consequently, the congress could use any legal means within its power, including eminent domain, to achieve cleanliness of the area.

In the Supreme Court’s judgment it was held that private property could be transferred from one businessman to the other as long as a legitimate public purpose was identified. Moreover, it was held that for the whole development plan to succeed, it was compulsory to take some private parcels of land which were not blighted (Scaros 348). In the Judgment, Justice Douglas gave power to the congress to decide the quantity and specifications of the property to take under eminent domain, provided it established public purpose first.

The case set precedence which has been referred to severally when it comes to definition of public use and public purpose. It was in this case that for the first time those terms were defined while taking into consideration the government use of eminent domain. Similarly, the case set foundation for the interpretation of the 5th Amendment to the constitution (Burke 49). Moreover, the case depicts that courts should restrict themselves to the reasons that lead to the use of eminent domain. However, they should not regulate the modes that may be chosen by the involved legislature to achieve its end.

Works Cited

Aalberts, Robert J. Real Estate Law. Stanford: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print

Burke, Barlow. Understanding the Law of Zoning and Land Use Controls. Irvine: LexisNexis, 2009. Print.

Davidson, Nestor M. and Robin Paul Malloy. Affordable Housing and Public-Private Partnerships. Farnham: Ashgate Publishers, 2009. Print.

Merriam, Dwight H. and Mary Massaron Ross. Eminent Domain Use and Abuse: Kelo in Context. Chicago: American Bar Association, 2007. Print.

Scaros, Constantinos E. Understanding the Constitution. Sudbury: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2011. Print.

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