Court Asked to Stop California Cities Seizing Property Without Justification

Published February 6, 2014

If the government deprives you of your rights, wouldn’t you like to know why that’s being done? That’s the crux of the petition that was recently filed with the California Supreme Court on behalf of an inner-city boxing gym and mentoring center for at-risk kids in National City, Calif.

The Community Youth Athletic Center (CYAC) has asked the California Supreme Court to review a Court of Appeal decision holding that the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution did not apply to National City’s most recent “blight” declaration. In July 2007, National City declared nearly 700 properties blighted, including the CYAC’s, to make it possible to use eminent domain to transfer private property to private developers. The CYAC repeatedly asked National City to make public its supposed evidence that justified blighting the well-maintained property, but the City refused.

All Property At Risk

If not reversed, governments across California will be able to use this decision to deprive people of their rights without having to provide evidence justifying the deprivation.

“If that’s the case, any home, any small business, farm or church could be taken without the government having to properly justify its actions,” said Institute for Justice Litigation Director Dana Berliner. The Institute is the nation’s leading defender of property rights. As with all of its clients, IJ is representing the CYAC for free. “That’s not how the government is supposed to operate in California or anywhere in the United States.”

At trial, the CYAC argued that National City violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution in failing to release its evidence of blight prior to a key public hearing that was the CYAC’s only opportunity to place evidence into the record. The trial court agreed, and also found that National City violated various California redevelopment statutes and the California Public Records Act.

Appeal Court Reversal

The Court of Appeal reversed the Due Process ruling, holding that the Due Process Clause did not apply to the public hearing because they are part of a “legislative” process.

Berliner explained, “The government can’t take away a constitutional right without providing due process, and people have a right to keep their property unless the government needs it for ‘public use.’ The blight hearing may have been a ‘legislative’ hearing, but it was also a final decision that taking the gym’s property would be for a ‘public use.’ The blight hearing was a final determination of the CYAC’s individual, constitutional ‘public use’ right, and that’s why the CYAC should have gotten due process.”

‘Perfect Case for Court’

“This is a perfect case for the California Supreme Court because there is a lot of confusion in the lower courts about when due process applies and the high court hasn’t addressed this issue in nearly 30 years,” said Institute Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes. “Courts over the years have wrestled with this issue in the context of property rights, school desegregation and government employment contracts.”

The California Supreme Court is expected to rule on the petition for review by February 10, 2014.

The Institute for Justice has been assisted in this case by local counsel Richard Segal, Brian Martin and Nathaniel Smith in the San Diego office of Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw, Pittman.