15 January 2008

Missouri Supreme Court to Hear Landmark Eminent Domain Case This Week

JEFFERSON CITY - January 14, 2008 — When the Missouri Supreme Court hears the eminent domain case of an Arnold, Mo. dentist on January 17th, the stakes will be much higher than just the fate of one dental practice - the case will affect property owners in 1200 Missouri cities. The Supreme Court’s ruling will determine whether non-charter cities like Arnold have the power to take private property for the benefit of wealthy private developers or if their eminent domain powers will be limited to traditional public uses, like roads and sewers.

The case involves Homer Tourkakis, who has operated a successful dental practice in the Arnold triangle for more than two decades. The city of Arnold wants to take Tourkakis’s property and turn it over to developer THF Reality, which is planning to put a big box store and other retail establishments in the Arnold Triangle.

Tourkakis's legal defense of his property is straightforward. At the root of it is a clause that has been in the Missouri Constitution since 1875. Article I, Section 28 says, "private property shall not be taken for private use with or without compensation". By itself, this provision would protect against the use of eminent domain for private development, but a new constitutional clause was added in 1945 that amounts to an exception to that protection.

Article VI, Section 21 authorizes the taking of private property and conveying it to a private developer if it is in an area declared to be "blighted, substandard or insanitary". But Dr. Tourkakis argues that this provision applies only to charter (home rule) cities such as St. Louis and Kansas City. Jefferson County Circuit court Judge M. Edward Williams agreed and ruled in favor of Tourkakis in May of 2007. The city of Arnold then appealed to the Supreme Court of Missouri. Two nationally-recognized public interest law firms, The Pacific Legal Foundation and the Institute for Justice, have provided legal assistance to Dr. Tourkakis.

Ron Calzone, chairman of Missouri Citizens for Property Rights (MO-CPR), argues that the Tourkakis case is more evidence that the eminent domain legislation passed in 2006 has not given property owners adequate protections. “When the eminent domain bill was passed by the Missouri legislature in 2006, most people assumed that it would put an end to eminent domain abuse,” Calzone said. “But the Arnold controversy, along with dozens of other cases in Saint Louis, Kansas City, Richmond Heights, Sugar Creek, Valley Park, Liberty and elsewhere, demonstrate that property owners are still at risk.”

The owner of a Kansas City parking lot learned the hard way that the 2006 legislation would not help when he appealed to what was supposed to be one of the stronger parts of the bill. A December 18, 2007 decision by the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, ruled in favor of a large developer who sought to use eminent domain to take the parking lot so he could build a new headquarters in its place.

Dr. Tourkakis serves on the board of MO-CPR, along with David Danforth one of a group of three Clayton property owners who successfully defended their properties in the Supreme Court last summer. Although Danforth won, the narrow decision provides no real protection for other property owners. Calzone says that a victory in the Tourkakis case would provide greater protections for property owners in non-charter cities, but it would still leave property owners in charter cities - more than half the population of the state - exposed to the same abusive tactics.

He argues that only a constitutional amendment will finally end the scourge of eminent domain for private gain for all Missourians. MO-CPR is currently recruiting volunteers and raising money to collect more than 200,000 signatures for each of two constitutional amendments.

A large crowd of concerned property owners is expected to attend the arguments in court next Thursday, which are at 9:30 AM in the Supreme Court building in Jefferson City.

For more info, contact:

Ron Calzone, chairman
Missouri Citizens for Property Rights
33867 Highway E
Dixon, MO 65459
(573) 368-1344

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