Eminent domain

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Eminent domain (United States, the Philippines), compulsory purchase (United Kingdom, New Zealand, Ireland), resumption (Hong Kong), resumption/compulsory acquisition (Australia), or expropriation (France, Mexico, South Africa, Canada, Brazil) is the power of a state or a national government to take private property for public use. However, it can be legislatively delegated by the state to municipalities, government subdivisions, or even to private persons or corporations, when they are authorized to exercise the functions of public character.[1]

The property may be taken either for government use or by delegation to third parties, who will devote it to public or civic use or, in some cases, to economic development. The most common uses of property taken by eminent domain are for government buildings and other facilities, public utilities, highways and railroads, or for public safety. Some jurisdictions require that the acquirer make an offer to purchase the subject property, before resorting to the use of eminent domain.


The term "eminent domain" was taken from the legal treatise De Jure Belli et Pacis, written by the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius in 1625,[2] which used the term dominium eminens (Latin for supreme lordship) and described the power as follows:

"... The property of subjects is under the eminent domain of the state, so that the state or he who acts for it may use and even alienate and destroy such property, not only in the case of extreme necessity, in which even private persons have a right over the property of others, but for ends of public utility, to which ends those who founded civil society must be supposed to have intended that private ends should give way. But it is to be added that when this is done the state is bound to make good the loss to those who lose their property."

The exercise of eminent domain is not limited to real property. Governments may also condemn personal property. Governments can even acquire intangible property such as contract rights, patents, trade secrets, and copyrights. Even the taking of professional sports team's franchise has been held by the California Supreme Court to be within the purview of the "public use" constitutional limitation, although eventually, that taking was not permitted because it was deemed to violate the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.[3]

North America[edit]

United States[edit]

Most states use the term "eminent domain", but some U.S. states use the term "appropriation" (New York) or "expropriation" (Louisiana) as synonyms for the exercise of eminent domain powers. The term "condemnation" is used to describe the formal act of exercising this power to transfer title or some lesser interest in it, such as an easement, upon which the condemnor must pay just compensation for it.

The practice of condemnation was transplanted into the American colonies with the common law. When it came time to draft the United States Constitution, differing views on eminent domain were voiced. The Fifth Amendment included a compromise that sought to protect property rights somewhat by requiring "public use" and mandating compensation.[4]

The legislature may take private property by passing an Act transferring title to the government. The property owner may then seek compensation by suing in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The legislature may also delegate the power to private entities like public utilities or railroads, and even to individuals for the purpose of acquiring access to their landlocked land. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently deferred to the right of states to make their own determinations of "public use".


In Canada, expropriation is governed by federal or provincial statutes. Under these statutory regimes, public authorities have the right to acquire private property for public purposes, so long as the acquisition is approved by the appropriate government body. Once property is taken, an owner is entitled to "be made whole" by compensation for: the market value of the expropriated property, injurious affection to the remainder of the property (if any), disturbance damages, business loss, and special difficulty relocating. Owners can advance claims for compensation above that initially provided by the expropriating authority by bringing a claim before the court or an administrative body appointed by the governing legislation.


In many European nations, the European Convention on Human Rights provides protection from appropriation of private property by the state. Article 8 of the Convention provides that "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home, and his correspondence" and prohibits interference with this right by the state, unless the interference is in accordance with law and necessary in the interests of national security, public safety, economic well-being of the country, prevention of disorder or crime, protection of health or morals, or protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This right is expanded by Article 1 of the First Protocol to the Convention, which states that "Every natural person or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions." Again, this is subject to exceptions where state deprivation of private possessions is in the general or public interest, is in accordance with law, and, in particular, to secure payment of taxes. Settled case-law of ECHR provides that just compensation has to be paid in cases of expropriation.[5]


In France, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen similarly mandates just and preliminary compensation before expropriation; and a Déclaration d'utilité publique is commonly required, to demonstrate a public benefit.

Notably, in 1945, by decree of General Charles de Gaulle based on the untried[6] accusations of collaboration, the Renault company was expropriated from Louis Renault posthumously and nationalised as Régie Nationale des Usines Renault[6] — without compensation.[7]

England and Wales[edit]

After his victory in 1066, William the Conqueror seized virtually all land in England. Although he maintained absolute power over the land, he granted fiefs to landholders who served as stewards, paying fees and providing military services. During the Hundred Years War in the 14th century, Edward III used the Crown's right of purveyance for massive expropriations. Chapter 28 of Magna Carta required that immediate cash payment be made for expropriations. As the king's power was broken down in the ensuing centuries, tenants were regarded as holding ownership rights rather than merely possessory rights over their land. In 1427, a statute was passed granting commissioners of sewers in Lincolnshire the power to take land without compensation. After the early 16th century, however, Parliamentary takings of land for roads, bridges, etc. generally did require compensation. The common practice was to pay 10% more than the assessed value. However, as the voting franchise was expanded to include more non-landowners, the bonus was eliminated. In spite of contrary statements found in some American law, in the United Kingdom, compulsory purchase valuation cases were tried to juries well into the 20th century. DeKeyser's Royal Hotel v. The King (1919).

In England and Wales, and other jurisdictions that follow the principles of English law, the related term compulsory purchase is used. The landowner is compensated with a price agreed or stipulated by an appropriate person. Where agreement on price cannot be achieved, the value of the taken land is determined by the Upper Tribunal. The operative law is a patchwork of statutes and case law. The principal Acts are the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act 1845, the Land Compensation Act 1961, the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965, the Land Compensation Act 1973, the Acquisition of Land Act 1981, part IX of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the Planning and Compensation Act 1991, and the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.


The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany states in its Article 14 (3) that "an expropriation is only allowed for the public good"[8] and just compensation must be made. It also provides for the right to have the amount of the compensation checked by a court.


Esproprio, or more formally espropriazione per pubblica utilità (literally "expropriation for public utility") in Italy takes place within the frame of civil law. The law regulating expropriation is the D.P.R. n.327 of 2001,[9] amended by D.Lgs. n.302 of 2002;[10] it supersedes the old expropriation law, the Royal Decree n.2359 of 1865. Also other national and regional laws may apply, not always giving a full compensation to the owner.[11] The general provisions for the expropriation stem from article 42 of the Italian Constitution and article 834 of the Codice Civile. Expropriation can be total (the whole property is expropriated) or partial; permanent or temporary.

Nazionalizzazione ("nationalization"), instead, is provided for by article 43 of the Constitution; it transfers to governmental authority and property a whole industrial sector, if it is deemed to be a natural or de facto monopoly, and an essential service of public utility. The most famous nationalization in Italy was the 1962 nationalization of the electrical power sector.


Expropriation. Ownership of land is transferred to the state and currency is given at the rate at what is called, equivalent or, "resembling market value". True value of land is never known and market value on some land is set low as a part of generational change. The land is never exchanged for an equivalent piece of land which can be bought at market value and the moving cost compensated with currency. In bad economic times this can therefore by the state be used to take land from anyone based on pure political wants(in some cases private wants through bribed or less informed politicians) at a price below actual market value(as a function of price over time and other factors), whatever they may be, as the key factor in regulation is "important public interest"(the public interest is not a decision made in court and so the politicians have the control over what is a "important public interest").[12] The courts are in any way elected by the same politicians. Sweden have in the aspect of ownership as a human rights and on the other hand expropriation a more expropration-friendly regulation. This is however natural given the long history of socialism and collectivism as a state idea but in reality this is implemented as high tax and no or low benefits for regular legal citizens. The countering force is that the land is already often owned by friends of politicians and therefore are seldom expropriated due to the size of normal homes not often having to be expropriated.[13] There are however examples of a whole city being expropriated because of miningoperations in northern Sweden.[14] This again being the interest of a privately held miningoperation and not having a public interest in it self thereby is an example of the expropriation being used in a corruptive way. Any leagal fees in a complaint are paid by the expropriated.[15] Later changes have been made so that an additional 25% over the marketvalue are paid. This in the paperbacked currency at a subjective market value.[16][17]


In Australia, section 51(xxxi) of the Australian Constitution permits the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws with respect to "the acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws."[18] This has been construed as meaning that just compensation may not always include monetary or proprietary recompense, rather it is for the court to determine what is just. It may be necessary to imply a need for compensation in the interests of justice, lest the law be invalidated.[19]

Property subject to resumption is not restricted to real estate as authority from the Federal Court has extended the states' power to resume property to any form of physical property.[citation needed] For the purposes of section 51(xxxi), money is not property which may be compulsorily acquired.[citation needed] A statutory right to sue has been considered "property" under this section.[20]

The Commonwealth must also derive some benefit from the property acquired, that is, the Commonwealth can "only legislate for the acquisition of Property for particular purposes".[21] Accordingly, the power does not extend to allow legislation designed merely to seek to extinguish the previous owner's title.[22] The states and territories' powers of resumption on the other hand are not so limited. The section 43(1) of the Lands Acquisition Act 1998 (NT) grants the Minister the power to acquire land 'for any purpose whatever'.[23] The High Court of Australia interpreted this provision literally, relieving the Territory government of any public purpose limitation on the power.[24] This finding permitted the Territory government to acquire land subject to Native Title, effectively extinguishing the Native Title interest in the land. Kirby J in dissent, along with a number of commentators, viewed this as a missed opportunity to comment on the exceptional nature of powers of resumption exercised in the absence of a public purpose limitation.[25]

The term resumption is a reflection of the fact that, as a matter of Australian law, all land was originally owned by the Crown before it was sold, leased or granted[26] and that, through the act of compulsory acquisition, the Crown is "resuming" possession.

South America[edit]


Art. 19, No. 24, of the Chilean Constitution says in part, "anyone deprived of his property, of the assets affected or any of the essential faculties or powers of ownership, except by virtue of a general or a special law which authorizes expropriation for the public benefit or the national interest, duly qualified by the legislator. The expropriated party may protest the legality of the expropriation action before the ordinary courts of justice and shall, at all times, have the right to indemnification for patrimonial harm actually caused, to be fixed by mutual agreement or by a sentence pronounced by said courts in accordance with the law."[27]

The vast majority of expropriated owners accept the amount of the indemnification, which usually is in line with real estate market values.[citation needed]



The Constitution originally provided for the right to property under Articles 19 and 31. Article 19 guaranteed to all citizens the right to 'acquire, hold and dispose of property'. Article 31 provided that "No person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law." It also provided that compensation would be paid to a person whose property had been 'taken possession of or acquired' for public purposes. In addition, both the state government as well as the union (federal) government were empowered to enact laws for the "acquisition or requisition of property" (Schedule VII, Entry 42, List III). It is this provision that has been interpreted as being the source of the state's 'eminent domain' powers.[28]

The provisions relating to the right to property were changed a number of times. The 44th amendment act of 1978 deleted the right to property from the list of Fundamental Rights.[29] A new article, Article 300-A, was added to the constitution which provided that "no person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law". Thus, if a legislature makes a law depriving a person of his property, it will not be unconstitutional. The aggrieved person shall have no right to move the court under Article 32. Thus, the right to property is no longer a fundamental right, though it is still a constitutional right. If the government appears to have acted unfairly, the action can be challenged in a court of law by citizens.[30]

Land acquisition in India is currently governed by The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, which came into force from 1 January 2014.[31] Until 2013, land acquisition in India was governed by Land Acquisition Act of 1894. However the new LARR (amendment) ordinance 31 December 2014 diluted many clauses of the original act.[32] The liberalisation of the economy and the Government's initiative to set up special economic zones have led to many protests by farmers and have opened up a debate on the reinstatement of the fundamental right to private property.[33]


Under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894,the government has the power to compulsorily acquire private land at the prevailing market rate for public purposes such as roads, highways, railways, dams, airports, etc.

Other countries[edit]

Many countries recognize eminent domain to a much lesser extent than the English-speaking world or do not recognize it at all. Japan, for instance, has very weak eminent domain powers, as evidenced by the high-profile opposition to the expansion of Narita International Airport, and the disproportionately large amounts of financial inducement given to residents on sites slated for redevelopment in return for their agreement to leave, one well-known recent case being that of Roppongi Hills.

There are other countries such as the People's Republic of China that practice eminent domain whenever it is convenient to make space for new communities and government structures. Singapore practices eminent domain under the Land Acquisitions Act which allows it to carry out its Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme for urban renewal. The Amendments to the Land Titles Act allowed property to be purchased for purposes of urban renewal against an owner sharing a collective title if the majority of the other owners wish to sell and the minority did not. Thus, eminent domain often invokes concerns of majoritarianism.

Since the 1990s, the Zimbabwean government under Robert Mugabe has seized a great deal of land and homes of mainly white farmers in the course of the land reform movement in Zimbabwe. The government argued that such land reform was necessary to redistribute the land to Zimbabweans dispossessed of their lands during colonialism - these farmers were never compensated for this seizure.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ eminent domain. Retrieved: 10 October 2012.
  2. ^ Nowak, John E.; Rotunda, Ronald D. (2004). Constitutional Law (Seventh ed.). St. Paul, MN: Thomson West. p. 263. ISBN 0-314-14452-8. 
  3. ^ City of Oakland v. Oakland Raiders, 32 Cal. 3d 60 (1982).
  4. ^ http://www.independent.org/pdf/tir/tir_12_03_04_benson.pdf
  5. ^ See James v.the UK, decision of ECHR dated by 21 February 1986, para 54.
  6. ^ a b "Louis Renault and the shame of a nation". London: The Daily Telegraph, Ian Morton. 14 May 2005. 
  7. ^ "Foreign News: Was He Murdered?". Time Magazine. Feb 6, 1956. 
  8. ^ "Art. 14 GG". 
  9. ^ D.P.R. 327/2001
  10. ^ Dlgs 302/2002
  11. ^ In other countries (France, Germany, Great Britain, Germany) is provised fair compensation according the free market value both for regular expropriations or for absolutely unlawful occupations: Buonomo, Giampiero (2003). "Occupazione acquisitiva: nodo irrisolto nonostante le modifiche al Testo unico". Diritto&Giustizia edizione online.   – via Questia (subscription required)
  12. ^ https://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=98&artikel=6414470
  13. ^ Short summary by a master of law about common bad practices
  14. ^ http://www.villaagarna.se/Lokalforeningar/norr/kiruna/Konsekvensbeskrivning.pdf
  15. ^ https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/Dokument-Lagar/Lagar/Svenskforfattningssamling/Svensk-forfattningssamling-201_sfs-1972-719/
  16. ^ http://www.regeringen.se/contentassets/a38c3c86c63947a2a83d52b9814e952e/ersattning-vid-expropriation
  17. ^ http://www.diva-portal.se/smash/get/diva2:632900/FULLTEXT01.pdf
  18. ^ See Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act.
  19. ^ Andrews v Howell (1941) 65 CLR 255
  20. ^ Smith v ANL Ltd (2000) 204 CLR 493
  21. ^ Australian Constitutional Commission, Final Report of the Constitutional Commission vol 1 (Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1988): 600. ISBN 0-644-06897-3.
  22. ^ Mutual Pools and Staff Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Taxation (1992) 173 CLR 450.
  23. ^ Lands Acquisition Act 1998 (NT), s 43.
  24. ^ Griffiths v Minister for Lands, Planning and Environment [2008] HCA (15 May 2008).
  25. ^ Reale, Andreana (2009). "Assisted Theft: Compulsory land acquisition for private benefit in Australia and the US". Alternative Law Journal (Melbourne: Legal Service Bulletin Co-operative Ltd) 34 (3): 147–151. 
  26. ^ Samantha J. Hepburn, Principles of Property Law, 2nd ed. (Newport, NSW: Cavendish, 2001):45-46. ISBN 1-876905-08-5.
  27. ^ Official translation of the constitution of 1980
  29. ^ 44th Amendment Act, 1978.
  30. ^ Tayal, B.B. & Jacob, A. (2005), Indian History, World Developments and Civics, pg. A-33
  31. ^ "THE LAND ACQUISITION, REHABILITATION AND RESETTLEMENT BILL, 2011 – FULL TEXT OF BILL" (PDF). Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India. 
  32. ^ [1]
  33. ^ Mahapatra, Dhananjay (28 February 2009). "Should right to property return?". The Times Of India. 
  34. ^ Dancaescu, Nick. Note. Land reform in Zimbabwe. 15 Fla. J. Int'l L. 615 (2003).