Update: Supreme Court Rejects Eminent Domain 'Extortion' Case

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to review a New York case challenging a use of eminent domain that the landowner called "extortion."

The case was one of more than 100 that the court rejected Tuesday without comment. It would have provided the justices an opportunity to clarify their controversial 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, in which they ruled that local governments can seize personal property for redevelopment plans.

The New York case, Didden v. Village of Port Chester, revolved around landowner Bart Didden's claim that the village allowed a developer to extort him before condemning his property under eminent domain and giving it to the developer to build a drugstore.

As Cybercast News Service previously reported, local authorities wanted the developer, Gregory Wasser of G&S Investors, to build a Walgreens pharmacy on Didden's land as part of the village's 1999 redevelopment plan. Didden, however, worked privately with competing pharmacy CVS, to build a branch of their store on the land.

Didden claimed that Wasser threatened to have the land transferred under eminent domain unless Didden paid the developer $800,000 or made him a 50 percent partner in the CVS project. A day after Didden refused the offer the village began the process of condemning his land.

In conversations with Cybercast News Service, a lawyer for the town did not dispute Didden's claim about Wasser's threat but denied that it amounted to extortion.

"We're not saying the meeting never happened," attorney John Watkins said. "The village had encouraged the developer [Wasser] to meet with Mr. Didden to see if they could work something out. It was essentially a negotiation, an offer, a proposal which Mr. Didden refused."

Watkins said G&S Investors had a right to the profit from the pharmacy project, because it had invested time and money to build infrastructure in the area under its agreement with the village to spearhead the redevelopment project.

After the court declined to hear his case, Didden maintained that he is the victim of extortion. In a release issued by his lawyers at the Institute for Justice, Didden said "a private citizen using the government's power is extorting me" and that "the government is making this extortion possible."

Didden's lawyer, Dana Berliner said in a statement Tuesday that the court's rejection opens the door for other towns and developers to demand "your money or your property."

"This abuse will only grow worse until the court do their job and set some limits on government's power of eminent domain," he said. "The court will have to review an eminent domain case sometime soon, and the Institute for Justice intends to pursue this area of litigation until the rights of property owners are fully protected from this abuse of power."

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