Nicholas Loyal

The Missouri Supreme Court handed down a 6-1 decision yesterday in favor of "development" trumping property rights in the matter of City of Arnold v. Homer Tourkakis. According to the decision (summarized nicely by one of the outlets throughout the state) the city is justified in using the power of eminent domain to seize the office of Dr. Homer Tourkakis, a dentist who was the lone holdout resisting the city's unjust taking of property, because (according to the opinion summary prepared by the Communications Counsel):

[T]he constitution does not limit the legislature from giving such cities authority to use eminent domain for redevelopment purposes, the state's tax-increment financing act is constitutional, and the trial court erred in dismissing a non-charter city's condemnation action against private landowners.

The courts' decision, authored by Judge Russell, reversed the previous decision by the trial court, which had held in favor of Mr. Tourkakis (also from the summary; link added):

The trial court erred finding that article VI, section 21 limits the entities that may exercise the power of eminent domain for redevelopment purposes and in dismissing the City's condemnation action. The City is authorized under several statutes, including the TIF Act, to exercise eminent domain.

It should be noted, though, that the court failed to rule on the controversial nature of Missouri's "blight" definition, which has allowed municipalities in the past to condemn pristine areas and doom them to economic failure. Also, as reported by the Post-Dispatch, the court left open the issue of whether Arnold's status as a non-charter city brought any bearing to the issue at hand:

[O]ne of the dentist's attorneys, Tracy Gilroy, said she believed the Supreme Court had failed to address whether the state's Tax Increment Financing Act actually sets out a procedure for nonchartered cities like Arnold to use the power of eminent domain.

"We may need to request a rehearing on that matter," Gilroy said.

This particular point was highlighted again by Judge Teitelman in the lone dissent to the majority opinion:

[A]rticle VI, section 21 provides that with respect to non-charter cities, "laws may be enacted" that provide for the exercise of eminent domain for redevelopment purposes. Article VI, section 21 does not expressly authorize the wholesale delegation of such power to third-class cities. Instead, it provides only that the legislature may enact a law allowing the use of eminent domain for a redevelopment project. In this case, the General Assembly has enacted no law authorizing the City of Arnold to exercise the power of eminent domain for redevelopment purposes.

Three tragedies result from this ruling. The first, and most direct, is that Homer Tourkakis will almost certainly lose his office, and that any payment he will receive will be a pittance compared to what the property is worth, in terms of both financial and sentimental value (read more about Dr. Tourkakis' story).

Second, the ruling in favor of the city of Arnold leaves the door open for other municipalities throughout the state to go forward with plans to seize private property for private use through the power of eminent domain. As explained by Show-Me Institute policy analyst Dave Roland, the Missouri Supreme Court had an opportunity to strengthen citizens' rights:

The Court could side with the city and its commercial developers, meaning that virtually every home, business, and house of worship in the state could be condemned and given away for the profit of a government-chosen owner. Or the Court could turn the tide in favor of individual liberty by deciding that the state Constitution's protections for private property still have meaning.

But obviously, the court watched that opportunity sail right by.

Finally, I leave you with this story. In a time when the economy is sliding and half-million dollar homes are being abandoned because of defaulted mortgages, what right does the city of Arnold have to call the pristine, entrepreneurial office of Homer Tourkakis — which was doing nothing but an honest service to the community — a blight?

Something to think about.

About the Author

Nicholas Loyal