Little guy wins in New Jersey eminent domain case

Arlington, Va.— In a ruling that may bring an end to the years-long battle to save Charlie Birnbaum’s longtime family home from condemnation, Judge Julio Mendez today ruled that the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority’s attempt to take Birnbaum’s property was “a manifest abuse of the eminent domain power” and dismissed the state’s condemnation action once and for all.

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Photo Credit: Institute for Justice

“This is a victory for property rights, common sense, and the people of New Jersey,” said Institute for Justice (IJ) Senior Attorney Robert McNamara. “The CRDA’s position was that they could take Charlie’s property for any reason or for no reason, just because they wanted it. Today’s ruling emphatically says otherwise.”

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The ruling brings to a close a court battle that began when the CRDA filed condemnation papers in early 2014 that sought to seize the home Birnbaum inherited from his parents. Joining forces with IJ, the nation’s leading advocate against eminent-domain abuse, Birnbaum fought back, and the longtime Atlantic City piano tuner’s fight against Goliath has become a focus of national news.

“The CRDA wasn’t trying to take this property because it was needed for anything, the CRDA was trying to take it because it could, and the judge saw right through that,” said IJ Attorney Dan Alban. “Instead, the history of failed government redevelopment projects in Atlantic City demonstrated that this project was likely to be just another such failure.”

The Court explained that “the CRDA is not empowered to condemn a property only to have it sit idly, potentially for years on end, as they wait for [the] right project to present itself. This has already happened in many of the surrounding properties that sit vacant waiting for a project to come forward.” The Court held that “CRDA has not provided reasonable assurances to justify the taking of the Birnbaums’ property.”

Charlie Birnbaum was elated by the ruling: “We have the rest of our lives to let it sink in,” he said. “It’s like watching a miracle unfold. I’ve realized that this is not just my victory. I can share this with anyone who is facing unjustified government action. If Charlie Birnbaum can win against the state of New Jersey, then there’s hope for anybody. It’s a legacy I can pass down to my children.”

“Charlie’s fight has come to symbolize all Americans’ struggle to defend their property rights against unchecked government power,” concluded Scott Bullock, IJ’s President and General Counsel. “Today’s ruling will ensure that Charlie’s longtime family home is safe from an unjustified government land grab—and, through IJ’s continued advocacy, we plan to ensure that everyone else’s is as well.”

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