The independent, non-partisan Institute for Justice announced Tuesday it successfully negotiated a settlement with the Village of Port Chester, New York in the wake of a 2008 federal court victory by local businessman William Brody. Brody, represented by IJ, has been engaged in a nine-year eminent domain battle with the village, which took Brody’s property for a private development project. (The village bulldozed his small businesses to make way for a parking garage for a Stop & Shop.)
Last year, a federal judge ruled on the long-running dispute, holding that the village violated Brody’s due process rights when it took his property on South Main Street to make way for a shopping mall. In a formal apology issued last night as part of the settlement, the village announces that it “sincerely apologizes for violating the constitutional rights of local businessman Bill Brody . . . and regrets the hardship it has caused Mr. Brody for the years he has had to fight to vindicate his rights.”
In addition to apologizing to Brody, the village will also erect a sign at the corner of William Street and South Main Street, across from where Brody’s building once stood, renaming that corner “William Brody Plaza,” memorializing Brody’s successful battle. The village will also issue Brody a check for the nominal damages awarded by a federal judge last year to recognize the violation of his rights, as well as paying an additional sum for the loss of his due process rights and a portion of the attorneys’ fees in the case.
“I’ve been saying for years that what the village was doing to me was unconstitutional,” said Brody. “I’m glad everyone finally recognizes that I’ve been right all along.”
Brody’s case caused the New York legislature to rewrite portions of its eminent domain procedure laws to require the government to notify property owners of their opportunity to challenge the government’s use of eminent domain. The 2004 change in the law was a direct result of Brody’s litigation and his personal efforts to persuade the legislature to protect other property owners.
The case is especially timely given the nomination of Second Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. In a separate case, Didden v. Village of Port Chester, Bart Didden and Dominick Bologna, who owned a property in a Port Chester redevelopment district, approached the village with a proposal to build a CVS pharmacy on property they own.
The developer appointed by Port Chester to run the district demanded Didden and Bologna either pay him $800,000 or grant him a 50% partnership interest in their business. When Didden and Bologna refused, Port Chester quickly took their property from them.
They sued. Sotomayor sided with Port Chester, ruling the village did nothing wrong in taking private property from owners who refuse to give cash or part ownerships to private developers acting on behalf of government. Sotomayor’s ruling in Didden, and her long-standing hostility to individual rights, are expected to be key issues in her confirmation hearings.