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Eminent Domain

DEFINITION

Easement right that allows the government to take over a property for a public purpose.

EXPLANATION

An easement by eminent domain refers to when the government claims an easement over a portion of a property owner’s property to install or maintain utilities for public use. This includes installing power lines, cable lines, and wiring. Such an easement should provide benefits to the wider community.

It is typically believed that the government can only claim eminent domain only for a public use. While this is oftentimes the case, it is not an absolute necessity. The government has the right to claim a property through eminent domain by placing restrictions on the landowner’s right to use a property, or permit the government to make use of the property.

Property owners have the right to take the government to court to challenge the validity of the eminent domain claim. While challenging the government’s eminent domain claim is difficult, it is possible to successfully prevent the government from instituting the change. This can occur by proving the eminent domain claim does not achieve a legitimate government public interest.

Case Law As It Relates to Eminent Domain

Case Review: Salvaty v. Falcon Television (1985)

The case, Salvaty v. Falcon Television (1985) 165 Cal.3d 798., involved an easement dispute between a property owner and a utilities company.

A property owner (Salvaty) owned a property in Alhambra. Salvaty had previously allowed public telephone phones to be installed on his property. In 1980, the city issued a franchise to a cable television company (Falcon Television). The franchise gave Falcon Television the right to install equipment on public streets and on property that contained public utilities. Consequently, Falcon Television installed cable television equipment on Salvaty’s telephone poles without permission. In response, Salvaty sued for trespassing, inverse condemnation, and unfair business practices.

The Superior Court ruled that the telephone poles were not Salvaty’s property, but rather public property. Therefore, Falcon Television had the right to add additional equipment to the poles without asking Salvaty’s permission. Salvaty appealed. The Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling.

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