At Lawton Cates, our Wisconsin eminent domain attorneys represent clients in condemnation and eminent domain matters. We protect our clients’ rights and ensure that they receive fair and just compensation for their loss of land and/or property rights. This is a highly complex and unique area of law; our team brings more than 63 years of experience to their practice. We know how the law works, and we are here to help.
Understanding Eminent Domain
Eminent domain, or condemnation, refers to the authority given to federal, state, and local governments, as well as utility companies, to take land and property rights primarily for use in road construction and utility projects. Under the United States Constitution and Wisconsin law, landowners are entitled to fair compensation for the loss of land or property rights taken from them. In some circumstances, property owners may be able to challenge the need to take their property. Ordinarily, however, most challenges involve the amount of compensation paid for the property or property rights taken.
What Are the Rules of Eminent Domain?
As previously mentioned, eminent domain is the right of the government to take private land for public good in exchange for fair financial compensation. The “Takings Clause” found in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use without just compensation.” Although the Fifth Amendment technically only permits the federal government to take private land or property rights, the Fourteenth Amendment extends this right to state and local governments and agencies.
There are several important elements of the Taking Clause, which are further defined below:
- Private Property: Eminent domain only applies to privately held land or property. This includes both physical real estate, such as a home, as well as airspace, contract rights, and even intellectual property.
- Taken: There are two types of “taking” under eminent domain: physical taking and regulatory taking. Physical taking involves any actual physical occupation of real property, while regulatory taking refers to excessive regulations that affect or limit the use of land or property.
- Public Use: For eminent domain to apply, the government must use the taken land or property for public purposes, such as the construction of a highway. While the land can be taken for the benefit of a single community or area, it cannot be taken for the benefit of one person.
- Just Compensation: Private property and landowners must be “justly” compensated when their land or property rights are taken. This means that the government must offer the fair market value for the property or land, as determined by a third-party appraisal.
Typically, when the federal, state, or local government wishes to acquire land for public use, it will first try to purchase the land or property on the open market. If the property or landowner does not wish to sell, the government may then seek to have the property condemned by the court in favor of the government (i.e., exercise eminent domain).
Examples of Eminent Domain
The federal, state, or local government can exercise eminent domain essentially any time it wishes to acquire land for public use. However, the law may also be enacted to protect public welfare or uphold zoning restrictions, landmark laws, and other related statutes.
Some common examples of how eminent domain has been historically used include the taking of land and private property for the purpose of:
- Building and connecting public roads and highways
- Developing bridges, tunnels, and other infrastructure
- Constructing public buildings, such as courthouses, post offices, and city halls
- Preventing high concentrations of private ownership
- Redistributing land for public benefit or general welfare
- Upholding building restrictions in relation to local zoning ordinances
Our Wisconsin eminent domain attorneys assist clients with all types of cases. If your land or private property has been condemned, or if the government has begun taking actions to enact eminent domain, do not hesitate to contact our firm to learn how we can help protect your rights.
Can Eminent Domain Be Stopped?
It is possible to challenge eminent domain. The two most common reasons for disputing eminent domain involve the issues of public use and compensation.
You may challenge the condemnation of your land or private property by arguing that the government does not have the right to take because it does not intend to use the land or property for the public good. In some cases, property owners are successful in challenging the government’s right to take. Such property owners are known as “holdouts.” A holdout may be able to retain some or all of their land or property if they can successfully prove that the condemnation does not mean the appropriate legal requirements.
More often, however, eminent domain disputes involve the payment of just compensation. If you believe that the government has not offered a fair price for your land or property based on the current market value, you may take legal action. Additionally, in some cases, the value ascertained through an appraisal may not justly compensate you for your losses. For example, if the state government condemns the land on which you have built and maintained a private business, forcing you to relocate, the dollar value of the land may not adequately compensate you for the true cost of moving your business. In such cases, you have the right to challenge the government’s compensation offer in court.
Contact Lawton Cates for Help with Your Eminent Domain Case
Eminent domain is a very complex area of law, and it is no easy feat going up against a local, state, or federal government entity. If you are dealing with any eminent domain or condemnation-related issue, you need to choose a firm with the experience and dedication necessary to see it through.
With two offices located in Jefferson and Madison, our attorneys are available to assist clients throughout the state of Wisconsin. We have a long-standing history of success and are ready to represent you and your rights. As a trial law firm, we provide every client with the personal attention, care, and service they deserve.
"Terry took the time to comfortably explain all and discuss options and decision-making that could be done along the way with clear pros and cons and asking me how I’d like to proceed."Jim R.
Compassionate, thorough, & made it easy to understand what’s going on.Riley G.
Lawton & Cates has been the most supportive and helpful!Rachel
"Everyone was so very kind to me... We were all made to feel welcome, made to feel supported, and made to feel like we belong there. That was very important to me since I was pretty stressed out a lot of the time."Susie