Tuesday, June 16, 2009, 8:43 PM

COA: Eminent Domain Taking Is Still For a Public Purpose When A Private Entity Also Derives A Benefit From The Taking

Today the COA held that a taking of property under eminent domain powers that serves a primary public purpose may also benefit a private entity. The case is Catawba County v. Wyant.

Catawba County condemned property owned by the Wyatts and the Johnsons to build a sewer line connecting the county landfill to the city of Newton's sewer lines. The new sewer line was necessary for the County to comply with solid waste disposal regulations. These regulations required that the disposal system for rainwater that comes into contact with solid waste must be connected to the sewer line.

The County had also previously allowed a lumber plant to purchase land near the landfill and operate its business there. The lumber company would also utilize the new sewer line.

The COA held that the removal of solid waste was a matter of public concern and the sewer line was for a public purpose, and the property could thus be taken by the County under its eminent domain power. The Court noted that in determining whether a municipality's action is for a public use or benefit, it examines whether the action “involves a reasonable connection with the convenience and necessity of the particular municipality[,]” and whether “the activity benefits the public generally, as opposed to special interests or persons.”

The Wyants and Johnsons argued that the sewer line would only benefit the lumber company, and that they were not given proper notice that the sewer line would benefit the landfill in the 30-day notice of condemnation the County was required to give them. The COA held that the purpose of connecting the landfill to the public sewer system to conform with regulations was the primary and "paramount" purpose, and that purpose was not defeated by the fact that the lumber company would also be using or benefiting from the sewer line. The COA also held that the County only had to give the Wyants and the Johnsons notice that the purpose of the condemnation was for a sewer line, and did not have to inform them of "all the planned or potential users of the sewer line."

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