A libertarian public interest law firm is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to end what it says is an abusive eminent domain practice in Colorado.
The Arlington, Virginia-based Institute for Justice filed a petition with the court Thursday asking it to review a Colorado Supreme Court ruling and decide if private companies can use eminent domain for their own benefit.
The case involves developer Woodcrest Homes, which in 2006 purchased a plot of land to develop near Parker, Colo. The company's development plans stalled, however, due to the 2008 housing market crisis.
A competing developer, Century Communities, purchased the land surrounding Woodcrest's land and created a "special municipal district" called the Carousel Farms Metropolitan District - which is allowed by Colorado law - which then voted to condemn the land and seize Woodcrest's property through eminent domain.
Woodcrest argued in court that the seizure violated the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment, but the Colorado Supreme Court in June ruled that it was legal because the land would be used for "various utilities and public rights of way."
But the institute says Century's actions amount to an "old-fashioned landgrab."
"When it comes to property rights, Colorado's law is more akin to the Wild West than a constitutional republic," Institute for Justice attorney Jeff Redfern said in a statement. "This is nothing other than an old-fashioned landgrab. Unlike most eminent domain laws, which require governments to engage in the taking, Colorado's law cuts out the middleman and just lets private developers use eminent domain to hand land over to themselves."
IJ said in its petition that a decision in the case could have national implications and clarification would lead to more consistent use of the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause
"This Court should take this opportunity to clarify the meaning of 'public use,' ensure a consistent application of the Takings Clause nationwide, and, in so doing, resolve a serious and important constitutional conflict for the bench and bar," the petition said.