An Actual Court Victory for Property Rights

Some good news after years of bad decisions:

New York's Supreme Court Appellate Division (First Department) handed down a massive victory for property rights yesterday in the case of Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corporation. At issue was the state's highly controversial use of eminent domain on behalf of Columbia University, which wants free rein over the West Harlem neighborhood of Manhattanville, where it plans to build a fancy new research campus.

As I discussed in an article last February, there is overwhelming evidence that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) actively colluded with Columbia in order to produce the very conditions that would then allow ESDC to seize property on the university's behalf. At the time of ESDC's 2006 blight study, for instance, Columbia owned 76 percent of the neighborhood and was thus directly responsible for the overwhelming majority of blight that the report alleged, ranging from overflowing basement trash heaps to major roof and skylight leaks. As numerous tenants have reported, the university refused to perform basic and necessary repairs, which both pushed tenants out and manufactured the ugly conditions that later advanced Columbia's long-term interests. Preliminary findings delivered to the ESDC admitted as much, noting "Open violations in CU Buildings" and "History of CU repairs to properties" among the "issues of concern."

Thankfully, the New York court recognized this shameful mess for what it is: eminent domain abuse. As Justice James Catterson wrote for the majority:

the blight designation in the instant case is mere sophistry. It was utilized by ESDC years after the scheme was hatched to justify the employment of eminent domain but this project has always primarily concerned a massive capital project for Columbia. Indeed, it is nothing more than economic redevelopment wearing a different face.

This, from the Court's majority decision, was especially heartening post-Kelo:

The time has come to categorically reject eminent domain takings solely based on underutilization. This concept put forward by the respondent transforms the purpose of blight removal from the elimination of harmful social and economic conditions in a specific area to a policy affirmatively requiring the ultimate commercial development of all property regardless of the character of the community subject to such urban renewal.

This was pretty unexpected given how the Atlantic Yards case went.  I am not sure how to reconcile the two decisions.  Damon Root at the link above has the same concerns.


  1. roger the shrubber:

    the fact the decision is almost the precise opposite of the atlantic yards case of (all of) a week ago is a bad sign. smells of checkbook justice - the atlantic yards guys obviously wined and dined and wrote checks to all the right people, and columbia et al obviously didn't.

    tammany never died, and every day we get closer to membership in the 3rd-world: no jobs, no manufacturing, blatantly crooked politicians, family political 'dynasties', out-of-control police, and justice for sale. it's just that new york, in her customary proud manner, is getting there firstest fastest. (although fair california is moving up fast on the inside: drudge has a picture of governor ahnold giving a talk in which san francisco is under water "due to global warming", perhaps to distract gollivornians that the state is unilaterally helping itself to a bigger chunk of their paychecks until the current crisis is solved.)

  2. Dr. T:

    This case was such a blatant violation of New York's eminent domain laws that only an unethical, heavily-bribed judge who was about to retire would rule in favor of Columbia.

    Columbia has been buying the properties around its school for decades. Some were used as apartments for students, but others were bought to create a security zone around the campus. Both would provide room for modest expansion. Columbia got greedy and wanted a big expansion without having to purchase private properties from many owners.

  3. Brad K.:

    I wonder if this decision will prompt suits against Columbia, suing for redress of (slum) landlord neglect.

    @ roger the shrubber,

    It is interesting you point out New York and California leading the way to a change in the political landscape. That is close to the scenario Panarin, the ex-KGB analyst, cited as the start of a devolution of America come summer 2010.

  4. tribal elder:

    Sounds like somebody lied. And conspired. Multiple times. Sounds like Columbia is a Corrupt Organization. Actual damages x 3.