Case Study: Eminent Domain In Michigan Essay

Eminent domain is defined by law as the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with due compensation. However, there can be certain cases where the government go too far in their power, breaking apart towns and its people. In the cases of Poletown Neighborhood Council v. The City of Detroit in 1981 and Wayne County v. Hathcock in 2004, we can see eminent domain working well and working poorly in the state of Michigan. In 1981, the case of Poletown Neighborhood Council v. The City of Detroit brought the issue of eminent domain in Michigan to the forefront.

At the time of this case, Michigan and the United States as a whole was doing poorly economically. Unemployment in Michigan was at 14. 2% and in Detroit alone unemployment was up to 18%. Additionally, Michigan’s biggest industry, the auto industry, was on the rocks further contributing the economic state of the time. Chrysler was on the ropes and Ford Motor, G. M. , and AMC had their largest financial losses in history, leaving 6,000 auto jobs at risk.

With this background in mind, Michigan’s governmental agents, as well as these large corporations, were in a frenzy to get the state’s economy back on track. In particular, G. M. was considering ending its operations in the city of Detroit. However, if the corporation did leave, unemployment rates would rise even more, causing the city to lose millions of dollars in real estate and income tax revenues. Thus the city took action to prevent this from happening.

To remain in Detroit, G. M. ould need a large swath of undeveloped land to make a suitable plant site. There is no undeveloped land in Detroit, leaving the government officials to use the power of eminent domain to evict residents from their homes to build the plant. Eminent domain allows for the government to compensate residents for their land if used for a public purpose. However, the issue in this case is whether or not it is constitutional to do this if the land would be taken by the government to then be given to a private entity in order to bolster the economy.

The residents that had been evicted from their homes challenged this. The court looked into the precedent in Michigan. The found that the constitutional language means for public use or public purpose, and majority (5-2) agreed that the determination of public purpose is legislation in nature, meaning that condemnation for a public purpose cannot be forbidden whatever the incidental private gain, meaning that because the plant will serve a public purpose by improving economy, it doesn’t matter that it also benefits a private corporation like G. M. The legislature determined that this was enough public gain to warrant eminent domain, answering “yes” to the issue of whether or not the government can take land to give to a private entity to improve the economy.

With this decision in mind, some of the judges did dissent this conclusion. They said that the so-called public purpose was simply incidental for the plant and should not be reason enough to evict residents from their homes. They also concluded that the central piece of the puzzle was that they were taking private property to give it to another private individual only because they have more power and clout.

Even with these dissenting judges, the court’s decision was final, setting stare decisis, leaving the public heartbroken for the individuals’ whose property was taken from them, and also leaving them confused on whether political restraints put on eminent domain are sufficient to protect us from abuse of it. Years later, in 2004, a similar case took place called Wayne County v. Hathcock. At this time, the Detroit metro area was expanding with multiple voluntary purchases to do so, totaling approximately 500 acres of land. With this land, a business and technology park was planned that would result in 30,000 new jobs.

Another 500 acres was acquired voluntarily for the park, however, more acres were needed, and this land was owned by forty-six owners. At a fair market value, twenty-seven owners accepted the compensation, yet nineteen owners still refused to give up land. The issue here is whether or not the courts should follow Poletown stare decisis and allow for eviction because the park would result in a large public benefit. The court looked at the details of the case and the conditions at the time to dete whether or not to evict the nineteen owners that did not accept the fair market value offer for the land.

They found that the park was not an enterprise dependent on the use of land that could be assembled only by government action, so the government did not have to step in unless absolutely necessary to still reap the benefits of the business and technology park. It also would not be subject to public oversight after being sold to private entities if eminent domain was not enforced here. Additionally, there were no facts of independent public significance, such as safety and health issues to justify condemnation.

Because there isn’t an obvious public purpose, which is what eminent domain is centered around, the courts went against case precedent, saying Poletown did it wrong, letting the nineteen people stay on their property, and proving that the power of eminent domain is not a power that is always abused by officials, and the restraints put on it to determine whether something is a sufficient public purpose does protect us from abuse of the power. When looking at both of these cases, they are both quite similar, however, their results are completely opposite.

Poletown Neighborhood Council v. The City of Detroit decided to enforce the right to eminent domain in Michigan for public benefit no matter the incidental private benefits, while Wayne County v. Hathcock went against this, deeming it unnecessary to evict homeowners from their private property only to hand it over to another private individual for personal benefits. With these two completely different decisions, which one is correct? Which court made the right call?

Some may say that the decision of Poletown was correct because it had the wellbeing of the general public in mind by giving the land to G. M. hich would result in more jobs and an economy improvement, rather than focusing on the wellbeing of the few directly affected and evicted from their homes for the plant. These same people may also agree that the Hathcock case did it wrong because they went against court precedent, which is in place to set consistency within the justice system and going against it defeats the purpose. Others may feel that the Hathcock case made the right call in taking land from those willing to give it up and allowing those who wouldn’t to keep their land, still allowing for the park to be built and reaping its benefits.

I feel that the courts in both cases made the right decisions however. Because Michigan and the city of Detroit was in such economic turmoil at the time of the Poletown case, the court made the right call in allowing for eminent domain to be enforced, because it benefited the greater good. I also agree that Hathcock made the right decision because they examined the facts and deemed it unnecessary to evict homeowners, letting down the public at a time of less economic turmoil, and while the park could still be built without enforcing eminent domain, allowing for public benefits and private well-being kept intact.