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Takings and Eminent Domain in Rhode Island

Rhode Island and other state’s laws grant cities and other municipal associations the ability to purchase land from private property owners as is necessary for the construction or maintenance of sewer and drainage systems which are needed for the public convenience, health, or welfare. If a private property owner cannot agree with the municipality on the terms of such a purchase, the municipality may be able to take title to the land using the power of eminent domain against the landowner’s objections. The power of eminent domain is not absolute, however, and the New Hampshire Supreme Court recently issued an opinion ruling against a city attempting to use this power to seize the land of an objecting property owner.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case is the city of Portsmouth, NH, which made an eminent domain claim to take title to 4.3 acres of land owned by the defendant. The city had constructed a sewer line on part of the land with oral permission from the previous landowner, however, they had no written easement for the sewer line. In a separate lawsuit, the property owner sued the city for a nuisance resulting from the sewer line and backed up water, and the city sought to condemn the land in response.
The property owner objected to the city’s taking, arguing that the city did not have the statutory authority to seize his land. The trial court agreed with the property owner that the public need for maintaining the sewer line did not outweigh the burden on his property rights, and ruled that the condemnation was not justified. Further, the trial court found that the city’s actual motivation for the condemnation was to stifle the property owner’s other nuisance lawsuit, and it was therefore improper.

The city appealed the ruling to the state supreme court. The city claimed to have other statutory justification for the taking, however, the arguments were not raised below and were improperly before the high court and were rejected without consideration. The court further found that the city’s other arguments that they were entitled to take the entirety of the disputed land as wetlands adjacent to the sewer system were not supported by the law. Although the trial and appellate rulings do suggest the city may be entitled to seize the land immediately containing the sewer, their claim for all of the adjacent lands was not appropriate, and the city would need to start from scratch if they choose to condemn only the portion of the land containing the sewer.

Speak with a Rhode Island Real Estate Lawyer

If you are a Rhode Island property owner who has been notified of an eminent domain taking of all or part of a piece of your property, you have the right to object to the taking. The skilled Rhode Island real estate attorneys with Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC are experienced in disputing takings and condemnations, and with our help, you can protect your property rights and ensure fair compensation is paid for any property that may be taken. Contact a qualified and experienced Rhode Island real estate attorney at Bilodeau Capalbo today by calling 401-300-4055.

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