Eminent Domain Victory in Maryland!


by Timothy Sandefur

The Maryland Court of Appeals issued a decision today in Mayor of Baltimore v. Valsamaki. The case involved government's "quick take" authority—and you can read the Pacific Legal Foundation’s amicus brief here.

"Quick take" is a procedure that allows government to take immediate possession of property without going through the usual procedure in an eminent domain case. They take your property and then later deal with whether they had the right to do so. As PLF argued—and the court agreed—this unfairly means that a property owner could very well win his case only to find that his property has been destroyed in the meantime! This, the court recognized, is terribly unfair.

Better still, the court recognized that private property rights are fundamental rights that deserve serious respect:

The framers of the Federal Bill of Rights did not place the property rights clause in some obscure part of these documents. It was placed in an amendment considered by many to be among the most important sections of that foundation stone of our form of democracy. It is found in the Fifth Amendment, included with the double jeopardy clause and the privilege against coerced self-incrimination in criminal cases clause. U.S. Const. amend. V. Immediately alongside those cornerstones of our democracy lies the property rights clause: "No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." U.S. Const. amend. V (emphasis added). Reverence is due the property rights clause just as is due the other great provisions of the Fifth Amendment. It is a fundamental right.

(slip op. at 36-37) (boldface added).

We at PLF would like to congratulate George Valsamaki, and his attorneys John C. Murphy and James L. Thompson, on this outstanding victory, and thank Maryland attorney Thomas Bowden who helped us file our amicus brief. It's people like them who are fighting to preserve—and to restore—our constitutional freedoms.

The fight is far from over. The Maryland Court of Appeals still holds that Kelo-style takings are constitutional. But at least the court seems to recognize how unfair some of the more extreme acts of government can really be.

Update: More at American Dream News.

Update 2: Here is the Pacific Legal Foundation's press release on the case.