Eminent Domain

What other entities besides federal, state, and local governments have the power of eminent domain?

By Brian Farkas, Attorney
It is widely known that federal, state and local government entities have eminent domain power to take privately owned land for public use. But other entities also have this power.

It is widely known that federal, state and local government entities have eminent domain power, which allows them to take privately owned land for public use.

But other entities also have this power. The most common such entities are quasi-governmental or public utility entities. Examples might include local school boards, power plants, or public transit companies (think of entities like Amtrak, MetroNorth, Caltrans, and so forth).

It makes sense that these quasi-governmental bodies have the same eminent domain abilities as the government itself, when one remembers the overall purpose of eminent domain: to ensure that overall social benefit is not impeded by private property interests.

Imagine an example in which Amtrak (also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation), which is a for-profit corporation that is partially funded by the government, was laying track for a new route. It realizes that it would be significantly more efficient and less expensive for it to run tracks through a homeowner’s existing parcel of land, rather than reroute the tracks around that parcel. It could potentially do so through eminent domain.

The same power would apply to a private power plant that studies its facilities and realizes that it needs to expand into the neighboring parcel in order to continue its work and meet demand. Even though that power plant is not “run” by elected representatives of the federal government, or even government employees, it still has eminent domain power as a public utility.

Again, though, just like federal, state and local governments, quasi-governmental entities like these are bound by the Constitutional requirement to pay private property owners “just compensation” for their land. So even though a power company or utility can claim your land, they must still pay you its reasonable market value.

Go to the main eminent domain FAQ page.

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