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Supreme Court declines to hear dispute over private property taken for economic development

Conservatives urged the court to accept the appeal so it could reconsider its controversial 2005 decision on eminent domain.
The Blommer Chocolate Company on Nov. 28, 2005 in Chicago.
The Blommer Chocolate Company on Nov. 28, 2005 in Chicago.Tim Boyle / Getty Images file

The Supreme Court said Friday it would not take up the appeal of a Chicago landowner whose property was seized by the city to allow the expansion of a nearby chocolate-making plant.

Conservatives urged the court to accept the appeal so it could reconsider one of its most controversial decisions — a 2005 ruling that said local governments could use the power of eminent domain to take land from one private property owner and give it to another for an economic development project.

That decision upheld the seizure of private homes in New London, Connecticut, including one owned by Suzette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in that case.

Three of the justices, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh, said the court should have taken the case that it denied Friday.

Businessman Fred Eychaner sued the city of Chicago when it seized property he owned in the city’s River West neighborhood after he refused to sell. The city took his land and gave it to the Blommer Chocolate company, which describes itself as "the largest cocoa processor and ingredient chocolate supplier in North America."

Eychaner said the city violated the Constitution by invoking its eminent domain powers without a finding that the change was necessary to remedy urban blight, which would have been a public benefit. Instead the city said it was acting to avoid possible future blight.

He also said the city had abused its eminent domain power, which allows the government to take private land "for public use." State court decisions that approved Chicago's actions "provide a dangerous roadmap for municipalities to take property based on speculative, future harms," his lawyers told the Supreme Court in written briefs.

The city said it did not base its action solely on the issue of future blight and acquired the property as part of a comprehensive economic development plan, one it said was no different from the project the Supreme Court approved in the 2005 Kelo decision.

In dissenting from the court's refusal to hear Eychaner's appeal, Justices Thomas and Gorsuch said the case would have provided "the opportunity to correct the mistake we made in Kelo."

They said "if our doctrine makes it difficult to discern public use from private favors," the court should take the issue "to provide some much needed clarity."