Property II, Pages 897–901

County of Wayne v. Hathcock

Supreme Court of Michigan, 2004

Facts:

Citizens were concerned about the noise a new airport would generate. To ease these concerns, plaintiff county agreed to buy the surrounding land. It was required to put the land to a productive use however, and so the county proposed buying much more land and converting it into a "technology park". The nineteen defendants refused to sell their land, so the county initiated action to condemn the parcels, which defendants challenge the constitutionality of.

Procedural History:

  • Trial court held that the county's project sered a public purpose.

  • Court of appeals affirmed.

Issue:

Is starting a technology park a public use?

Rule:

Page 898For the condemned property to be a public use, it must either:

  1. Involve extreme public necessity that only the government can effect,
  2. Be transferred to a private entity still accountable to the public in its use of the property, or
  3. Be selected based on public concern, not based on the subsequent use of the land.

Reasoning:

  • The country contains many office parks formed without government intervention. Therefore forming this one does not require the exercise of eminent domain.

  • Plaintiff intends the businesses purchasing the defendants' properties to pursue their own financial benefit, not the public's. No mechanism even exists to ensure that a business did so anyway.

  • Nothing about condemning defendants' properties serves the public good. The only benefits proposed arise after being acquired by the county.

  • While the Michigan Constitution allows transferring property to private individuals, it does not allow it for the property to be used privately. As this would be understood to not be a public use, the condemnations proposed are unconstitutional. Classifying business with an economic benefit as a public use would justify the exercise of eminent domain in any case, as every business has some economic benefit. Every land right would be threatened by the expansion of any large retailer who would put one's land to more benefit that he would.

Holding:

No, private businesses' use is not a public use. Reversed.

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