Eminent Domain Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Eminent Domain, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Eminent Domain?

n. the power of a governmental entity (federal, state, county or city government, school district, hospital district or other agencies) to take private real estate for public use, with or without the permission of the owner. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution provides that “private property \[may not\] be taken for public use without just compensation.” The Fourteenth Amendment added the requirement of just compensation to state and local government takings. The usual process includes passage of a resolution by the acquiring agency to take the property (condemnation), including a declaration of public need, followed by an appraisal, an offer, and then negotiation. If the owner is not satisfied, he/she may sue the governmental agency for a court’s determination of just compensation. The government, however, becomes owner while a trial is pending if the amount of the offer is deposited in a trust account. Public uses include schools, streets and highways, parks, airports, dams, reservoirs, redevelopment, public housing, hospitals and public buildings.

History and Meaning of Eminent Domain

Eminent domain is a power possessed by the government to take over a private property for public use, on the condition that the owner is paid fair compensation. It originates from the Latin term "eminentia," which means the right of the government or its representative to take private property for public use. This power is based on the concept of the government's "police power," which allows it to act in the best interests of the general public. Eminent domain is a controversial political and legal issue, with debates regarding the scope and extent of the power, the compensation required, and the nature of public use for which the power may be used.

Examples of Eminent Domain

  1. The City of New London, Connecticut, used eminent domain to take over several private properties for development, causing controversy and legal challenges.
  2. The United States government used eminent domain to acquire land and build the interstate highway system.
  3. A school district may use eminent domain to acquire a piece of land to build a new school.

Legal Terms Similar to Eminent Domain

  1. Condemnation - refers to the legal process of taking over private property under eminent domain.
  2. Just compensation - the compensation paid to the owner of the property taken over through eminent domain.
  3. Police power - the power of the government to regulate and control private property for the public's health, safety, and welfare.