Author: Luke Wake
A couple in New Jersey is turning to their Supreme Court for relief after an appellate decision found that their property had been "taken by inverse condemnation." That legal conclusion flies in the face of established law. Inverse condemnation is a cause of action for an aggrieved landowner against a government when it has taken a property without paying just compensation. As we argued in our recent amicus brief in support of the couple, inverse condemnation is a shield to protect the property owner’s rights, not a tool for the government to use in stealing private property.
Yes, the government literally stole this couple’s property. Even the appellate court concluded that their property was taken "without any semblance of due process." At this point, they can’t build anything on the property whatsoever; they can’t even have vehicular access.
Somehow, despite the government’s failure to institute eminent domain procedures, or to otherwise comply with the requirements of the Fifth Amendment, the appellate court concluded that the government now owns their property. The couple is left with only "bare legal title" – which apparently means they assume all the liabilities of ownership (e.g. taxes) without any of the benefits (i.e. the right to use and enjoy the property, or to exclude others).
The most outrageous thing is that the government is claiming that it has owned the property since 1962, despite the fact that over the past 47 years it has led the couple to believe they were the owners by charging them property taxes and referring to them as the owners in communications. In fact, when the couple first filed suit, asserting a right to access their property, the government admitted they were indeed the owners. But now they have made an about-face – claiming that they took the property years ago and that there is nothing the couple can do about it now.