St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District v. Violet Dock Port, Inc., LLC

“Economic development” cannot justify condemnation for a public use

Cases > Property Rights > St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District v. Violet Dock Port, Inc., LLC
Case Status: Active: Litigation is ongoing

The St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District condemned Violet Dock Port’s property in order to hand it over to a competitor’s business—merely because the district believed that the competitor could operate the dock better and charge more favorable rates. A Louisiana appellate court upheld the condemnation as a valid “public use” because the government said it would help the area’s economic development. In January 2018, the state supreme court delivered a mixed decision and denied a rehearing. Violet Dock Port has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. PLF argues in a supporting brief that the economic development rationale is commonly used to circumvent the Constitution’s prohibition against private takings.

Violet Dock Port was a privately owned, 75-acre industrial port facility fronting the Mississippi River in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. The Port was designed and maintained to berth and service ocean-going ships for the U.S. Navy as well as other commercial operations. In 2010, the Port was reinvesting its profits for improvements to facilitate cargo operations. In December of that year, the St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District expropriated the Port’s entire property, driving the company out of business. The District replaced the Port with a bulk cargo facility to be operated by Associated Terminals, a private company and competitor of Violet Dock Port. Associated Terminals, a competitor to Violet Dock Port, was also to take over the Port’s contracts with the Navy.

The Port objected to the expropriation but lower courts ruled against it. In January 2018, the Louisiana Supreme Court delivered a mixed decision and denied a rehearing. Violet Dock Port has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. As with the state supreme court, PLF filed an amicus brief arguing that the constitutional “Public Use” Clause prohibits government entities like the District from exercising eminent domain powers for “economic development” purposes.

The decision from the United States Supreme Court was unfavorable, in that the Court denied the Petition for Writ of Certiorari.

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What’s at stake?

  • The Fifth Amendment’s Public Use Clause does not allow government agencies to use eminent domain for purely economic development reasons.
  • Courts should not allow private parties to direct or influence eminent domain decisions in the name of economic development.

Case Timeline

St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District v. Violet Dock Port, Inc., LLC Documents 7-17-17

July 17, 2017 Download

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