Just Compensation for Border Wall Land Condemnation
Constitutional Right to Just Compensation
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution enshrines your right to just compensation for your property:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
What does that mean for you? The Federal government has the right to take private property, but only if they give the property owner fair value. Another way to say that is “just compensation.” The Takings Clause is part of the 5th Amendment. Other words you might see for that process are “condemnation” or “eminent domain.”
The history of takings goes back at least to Section 39 of the Magna Carta, signed in 1215. Thomas Jefferson and the anti-Federalists pushed for the same idea in the Bill of Rights right after the U.S. adopted the Constitution. Thus, protection against Federal seizure of private property has existed for well over 200 years.
Federal land condemnation lawsuits go to Federal court. But eminent domain cases are somewhat different than run-of-the-mill civil or criminal litigation. he government files a case against the land itself, as well as at least one owner.
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure include a special rule dedicated to condemning real and personal property by eminent domain. Under that rule, the government’s case can be against one owner’s land, or it can be against many pieces of property all at once.
In its Complaint, the government must identify the reasons:
- the legal authority for taking the land.
- what the government will use the land for (for example, a border wall).
- a description of the property.
- what kind of interest the government will acquire; and.
- for each piece of property, a designation of each owner or owner of an interest in the property.
The government can change its complaint at any time, as often as it wants. Usually, when the government starts its case it will deposit with the court any money required by law. For example, that might be the amount the government initially offers you for your land.
At the time the government starts the lawsuit, it only has to name the owners that it knows about. At some point before any hearing, the government is supposed to add the owners that it could reasonably find by searching the records.
Notice to the Owners
The government typically provides a copy of the notice to the known owner. If the government can’t find the owners, then the government can give notice by publishing it in a newspaper in the county. If that happens, the government is also supposed to send a copy by mail to the known owners.
The owner has only 21 days to answer the complaint. The answer must identify the property in which the owner claims an interest. In addition it must state each and every reason the defendant opposes the condemnation. Most noteworthy, owners lose all objections or defenses that are not in the answer.
In many cases, the disagreement is about the amount of compensation. Your lawyer may have to go to trial to establish the right value.
Eminent domain value trials can take any of several forms:
- the Federal government can set up a special tribunal. This is uncommon. But they did it when the Tennessee Valley Authority was filling valleys with water;.
- the court can set up a special commission, or.
- if neither of those apply, then your lawyer might get to try the case to a jury.
Why should you hire a lawyer?
First of all, it is common for the Federal government to provide an initial “lowball” offer. Some land owners take the offer, believing they have no other options.
This isn’t the first time the Federal government decided it wanted to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. Just a few years ago, it seized land from at least 400 landowners. Sometimes the condemnation was relatively small – maybe just the width of a driveway. But, other times the seizure was much larger.
One analysis illustrated the potential benefit of a lawyer during the condemnation process. A group of 28 landowners requested a trial by jury. About half of those owners settled during the litigation. Yet, their settlements averaged 1,200% more than the government’s original offers. So a landowner that took the initial offer of $100,000 may have missed out on $1.2 million.
Why didn’t ever landowner hire a lawyer? An eminent domain case can be expensive. First, many law firms charge hundreds of dollars for each hour of each lawyers’ time. In addition, costs for records searches and even expert opinions may be necessary to set the property’s value. Consequently, the fees and costs for a condemnation case might be tens of thousands of dollars, or more.
Now Is The Time To Act
It seems highly likely that the government is going to take steps to secure the U.S./Mexico border. That process is underway.
If you own land on the border, you may want to consider taking action now. That way you will be ready when the government makes a lowball offer for your land. Remember, a landowner has only 21 days under the rules to file an answer including all of your objections and defenses.
Get Every Penny You Deserve For Your Land
The Zimmerman Firm believes that landowners should be fairly compensated for land condemnation along the U.S./Mexico border. Having a lawyer ensures that your case will get the attention it deserves.
Have you already been contacted by the Federal government about your land on the border? Then the time to act is now. Contact The Zimmerman Firm to get started today.
Do you have land along the border but have not yet heard from the government? The time to act is still now. Contact The Zimmerman Firm to get started today.
The Zimmerman Firm works on a contingency-fee basis. Therefore, you owe nothing if we cannot increase the value of the government’s offer.