Farm Bureau Files Brief to Protect Landowner Rights — American Farm Bureau Federation, 12/3/04

Working to protect the rights of America’s farm and ranch landowners, the American Farm Bureau Federation today filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a property case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case, Kelo v. City of New London, is an appeal by a homeowner in New London, Conn., of a Connecticut Supreme Court ruling. Also joining the brief were 18 state Farm Bureaus.

The Farm Bureau brief contends that the state supreme court is incorrectly allowing the city to use eminent domain authority to take private property for the purpose of turning the property over to business developers constructing businesses generating higher taxes.

“It is imperative that the Supreme Court hear from farmers and ranchers on this very important issue,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “Agricultural land is the livelihood of our farmers and ranchers and important for U.S. food and feed production, but land used this way is not the highest income generator for government bodies. Tax revenue cannot be the basis for seizing private property.”

According to AFBF General Counsel Julie Anna Potts, the Supreme Court’s ruling has the potential to affect every farmer and rancher of the nation. As Farm Bureau’s brief points out, each agricultural landowner is threatened “with the loss of productive farm and ranch land solely to allow someone else to put it to a different private use.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court must rule whether government bodies can use eminent domain to basically seize non-blighted private property and hand it over to other private entities simply because they might earn higher tax income,” Potts said.

In the Kelo case, eminent domain is being claimed to take waterfront property from private property owners, Susette Kelo and others, to give it to a private commercial entity that plans to develop the property into a waterfront hotel, office space, luxury homes and other retail businesses.

According to the Farm Bureau brief, the higher tax income and new jobs from the project are the stated justification by the city of New London. The case has nothing to do with slum clearance or blighted neighborhood improvement. The new construction is planned to complement a new research facility being built in the area.

Farm Bureau argues that municipalities cannot enter into partnerships with redevelopers solely to take homes and businesses for the purpose to “convert it into some commercial or industrial use that is touted as a higher generator of taxes and jobs.” Municipalities cannot be allowed to use this extreme measure to try and solve their tax woes, according to the Farm Bureau brief.

The brief also suggests that municipalities should not be involved in speculative real estate ventures with private enterprise. “Speculative development projects are the province of private enterprise, not government,” the brief says.

“The final decision will reverberate across the nation because this is the biggest eminent domain and private property case to be ruled on in years. We are optimistic that the Supreme Court will clarify the situation in favor of our farmers and ranchers,” Potts said.

The brief was filed through the cooperation of Potts, Nancy McDonough, California Farm Bureau Federation general counsel, and the Los Angeles-based law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, which has extensive experience in eminent domain cases and regularly assists the CFBF.

The 18 state Farm Bureau organizations on record as supporting the brief are California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. Also supporting the brief is the New Haven (Conn.) County Farm Bureau Federation.

American Farm Bureau Federation: www.fb.org