Thursday, December 3, 2009

New York Court applies Takings Clause against Columbia University's Plans to Expand

An appellate division court in New York issued its opinion today in Matter of Kaur v New York State Urban Dev. Corp., involving the controversial bid of Columbia University to expand further into the Manhattanville section of Harlem by acquiring 17 acres, some of it by government's exercise of eminent domain. 


After opening with a quote from Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. 386, 388, 3 Dall. 386, 388, 1 L.Ed. 648 (1798), the court states:

The exercise of eminent domain power by the New York State Urban Development Corporation d/b/a Empire State Development Corporation (hereinafter referred to as "ESDC") to benefit a private elite education institution is violative of the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution, article 1, ยง 7 of the New York Constitution, and the "first principles of the social contract." The process employed by ESDC predetermined the unconstitutional outcome, was bereft of facts which established that the neighborhood in question was blighted, and ultimately precluded the petitioners from presenting a full record before either the ESDC or, ultimately, this Court. In short, it is a skein worth unraveling.

The "skein" as interpreted by the court includes its conclusion that any "blight" designation of this area is "mere sophistry."   The court extensively discusses Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), distinguishing it, but also finding the "time has come to categorically reject" the relevance of underutilization:

This concept put forward by the respondent transforms the purpose of blight removal from the elimination of harmful social and economic conditions in a specific area to a policy affirmatively requiring the ultimate commercial development of all property regardless of the character of the community subject to such urban renewal.

Moreover, the court held that "the record overwhelmingly establishes that the true beneficiary of the scheme to redevelop Manhattanville is not the community that is supposedly blighted, but rather Columbia University, a private elite education institution."   This, the court stated, "conflicts with Kelo on virtually every level" and thus "render the taking in this case unconstitutional."

While the court cites the state constitutional provisions, Kelo is clearly the relevant precedent.  This could be the basis for a great exam question on the takings clause - - - or a great in-class exercise for next semester.


(Thanks to Sam Sue of CUNY School of Law)

update: NYT story here; gothamist with good photos here.

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