When the owner of a Hillside, NJ property that held a used car business was told that five feet of his property would be taken under the eminent domain law, he decided to take action. He filed suit against the state government and won. Eminent domain, for those of you who don’t know, is a law by which the government can take over a property for a public use as long as it provides a reasonable compensation to the property owner.

This has happened in many NJ towns where highways, schools, and bridges needed to be built. And so it was that along a prime piece of property along route 22 in Hillside, New Jersey, the NJ Department of Transportation decided it would pay $40,000 for the front of this dealership.

Aside from the obvious controversy involved in all eminent domain cases, this one had another obstacle: The front of a used car dealership is where the vehicles are actually displayed. So one can imagine that condemning the property—as the state Department of Transportation did—and then taking it away from the property to widen a roadway would be to the detriment of the used car business. It would likely cause a loss in business to the tune of way more than $40k.

“The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution allows the government to take private property for a public use, providing it pays just compensation,” said an attorney for the business, Timothy Duggan of Stark and Stark in Lawrenceville, in a press release about the case from Thirty Ink Media. “However, in this case, the compensation that the NJDOT was originally offering was far from just.”

When they saw that the business owner was serious and that they would likely face a trial, the DOT upped the ante, raising the offer to 90,000 but it was too little, too late. The owner sued for what he thought loss was worth: 1,080,000. At trial, a planner, an appraiser and an engineer provided testimony to show how valuable that strip of land was and how $90,000 was a lowball offer. And after five days, a jury agreed, coming back with a $750,000 verdict in favor of the business owner. So you really CAN fight city hall, after all.

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