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Tennessee County Municipal Advisory Service

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Scope of the Power of Eminent Domain

Reference Number: MTAS-1264
Tennessee Code Annotated
Reviewed Date: September 12, 2017
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Eminent domain is the right or power of the sovereign to take private property for the public use; to take ownership and possession thereof upon payment of just compensation to the owner of the property. [1] It is an inherent power of a sovereign, which is without limitation or restriction, except for the constitutional limitations that private property must be taken for a public use, [2] and the owner of such property must be paid just compensation for the property. [3] The legislature has adopted a definition of “public use” codified in T.C.A. § 29-17-102 that precludes private use or benefit or the indirect public benefits resulting from private economic development and private commercial enterprise, including increased tax revenue and employment opportunities. The statute then provides these exceptions: (1) acquisition of land for transportation projects, (2) acquisition of land necessary to the function of a utility, (3) acquisition of property by a housing authority or community development agency for redevelopment in blighted areas, (4) private uses merely incidental to public use, and (5) acquisition of property for an industrial park under T.C.A. Title 13, Chapter 16, Part 2. The General Assembly enacted these restrictions and exceptions in response to the U.S. Supreme Court case of Kelo v. City of New London, 126 S. Ct. 326 (2005). Although the power of eminent domain is an inherent power of the sovereign, it lies dormant until the legislature declares the purpose for which it may be exercised and the agencies that may use the power. [4] The power of eminent domain may be exercised directly by the legislature by the adoption of a statute identifying the particular property to be acquired for a public use, or it may be delegated to agents who may exercise the power in the manner prescribed in the enabling statute. [5]

The power of eminent domain has been delegated to counties, (T.C.A. §§ 29-17-101; 29-17-201), [6] and municipalities. T.C.A. §§ 29-17-101; 29-17-301. [7] It has been generally delegated to any person or corporation authorized by law to construct railroads, turnpikes, canals, toll bridges, roads, causeways, or other work of internal improvement. T.C.A. § 29-16-101. [8] The General Assembly has also delegated the power of eminent domain to the following: [9]

  • Airport authorities (T.C.A. §§ 42-3-108; 42-3-109; 42-3-204.)
  • Beech River Watershed Development Authority (T.C.A. § 64-1-102.)
  • Carrol County Watershed Authority (T.C.A. § 64-1-805.)
  • Coast and Geodetic Surveys (T.C.A. § 29-17-602.)
  • Counties—Airports (T.C.A. § 42-5-108.)
  • Counties—Electric plants (T.C.A. § 7-52-105.)
  • Counties—Controlled access highways (T.C.A. § 54-16-104.)
  • Counties—Industrial parks (T.C.A. § 13-16-203.)
  • Counties—Levees (T.C.A. § 69-5-209.)
  • Counties—Public transportation systems (T.C.A. § 7-56-106.)
  • Counties—Public works projects (T.C.A. § 9-21-107.)
  • Counties—Railroad systems (T.C.A. § 7-56-207.)
  • Counties—Recreational land (T.C.A. § 11-24-102.)
  • Counties—Roads (T.C.A. § 54-10-205.)
  • Counties—Schools (T.C.A. §§ 49-6-2001 et seq.)
  • Counties—Solid waste sites (T.C.A. § 68-211-919.)
  • Counties— for the West Tennessee River Basin Authority (T.C.A. § 64-1-1103(14).)
  • Drainage and levee districts (T.C.A. § 69-5-201 et seq.)
  • Hospitals (T.C.A. § 29-16-126.) (Limited applicability)
  • Housing authorities (T.C.A. §§ 13-20-104; 13-20-108 - 109; 13-20-212; 29-17-501 et seq.)
  • Light, power , and heat companies (T.C.A. § 65-22-101.)
  • Metropolitan governments - Energy production facilities (T.C.A. § 7-54-103.)
  • Metropolitan governments - Port authorities (T.C.A. § 7-5-108.)
  • Metropolitan hospital authorities (T.C.A. § 7-57-305.)
  • Mill Creek Flood Control Authority (T.C.A. § 64-3-104.)
  • Municipalities—Airports (T.C.A. § 42-5-108.)
  • Municipalities—City Manager - Commission (T.C.A. § 6-19-101.)
  • Municipalities—Controlled access highways (T.C.A. § 54-16-104.)
  • Municipalities—Drainage ditches (T.C.A. § 7-35-101.)
  • Municipalities—Electric plants (T.C.A. § 7-52-105.)
  • Municipalities—Enery acquisition systems (T.C.A. § 7-39-303.)
  • Municipalities—Industrial parks (T.C.A. § 13-16-203.)
  • Municipalities—Mayor - Aldermanic (T.C.A. § 6-2-201.)
  • Municipalities—Modified City Manager (T.C.A. § 6-33-101.)
  • Municipalities—Parks (T.C.A. §§ 7-31-107 et seq.)
  • Municipalities—Public transportation systems (T.C.A. § 7-56-106.)
  • Municipalities—Public works projects (T.C.A. § 9-21-107.)
  • Municipalities—Railroad systems (T.C.A. § 7-56-207.)
  • Municipalities—Recreational systems (T.C.A. § 11-24-102.)
  • Municipalities—Schools (T.C.A. §§ 49-6-2001 et seq.)
  • Municipalities—Sewers (T.C.A. § 7-35-101.)
  • Municipalities—Slum clearance (T.C.A. §§ 13-21-204 - 206.)
  • Municipalities—Solid waste sites (T.C.A. § 68-211-919.)
  • Municipalities—Streets (T.C.A. §§ 7-31-107 et seq.)
  • Municipalities—Utilities (T.C.A. § 7-35-101.)
  • Municipalities—Water systems (T.C.A. § 7-35-101.)
  • Municipalities— For the West Tennessee River Basin Authority (T.C.A. § 64-1-1103(14).)
  • North Central Tennessee Railroad Authority (T.C.A. § 64-2-507.)
  • Pipeline companies (T.C.A. § 65-28-101.)
  • Private roads (T.C.A. § 54-14-102)
  • Railroads (T.C.A. §§ 65-6-109; 65-6-123.)
  • Railroads—Branch lines (T.C.A. § 65-6-126 et seq.)
  • Road improvement districts (T.C.A. § 54-12-152.)
  • Solid waste authorities (T.C.A. § 68-211-908.)
  • State Department of Environment and Conservation (T.C.A. §§ 11-1-105; 11-3-105; 11-14-110; 59-8-215.)
  • State Department of Transportation (T.C.A. § 54-5-104; 54-5-208; 54-16-104.)
  • State military affairs (T.C.A. §§ 58-1-501 et seq.)
  • State water and sewer facilities (T.C.A. § 12-1-109.)
  • Telegraph companies (T.C.A. § 65-21-204.)
  • Telephone companies (T.C.A. § 65-21-204.)
  • Telephone cooperatives (T.C.A. § 65-29-125.)
  • Tri-County Railroad Authority (T.C.A. § 64-2-307.)
  • University of Tennessee (T.C.A. § 29-17-401.)
  • Utility districts (T.C.A. § 7-82-305.)
  • Water companies (T.C.A. §§ 65-27-101 et seq.)
  • Water and wastewater authorities (T.C.A. § 68-221-610.)

Such grants of the power of eminent domain are in derogation of private property rights and will be strictly construed against the condemners and liberally in favor of the property owners. [10] The General Assembly in T.C.A. § 29-17-101 expresses its intent that the power of eminent domain be used sparingly and that the laws permitting this exercise of the power be narrowly construed. The condemner‘s right to take property will be denied if the condemner has failed to follow the procedures set forth in the statutes that authorize exercise of the power of eminent domain. [11] Also, the condemner will be precluded from acquiring a greater interest in property than is authorized by statute. [12]

T.C.A. § 68-211-122 prohibits the use by a municipality of the power of eminent domain to establish a solid waste landfill outside its corporate boundaries unless this is approved by the governing body of the area in which the landfill is to be located. This approval must be given by a majority vote at two (2) consecutive regularly scheduled meetings.


Notes:
[1]  City of Maryville v. Edmondson, 931 S.W.2d 932 (Tenn. App. 1996); Harper v. Trenton Housing Authority, 274 S.W.2d 635 (Tenn. App. 1954); City of Knoxville v. Heth, 186 Tenn. 321, 210 S.W.2d 326 (1948).

[2] See section on Public Use.

[3] Edwards v. Hallsdale-Powell Utility District, 115 S.W.3d 461 (Tenn. 2003); Rivergate Wine and Liquors, Inc. v. City of Goodlettsville, 647 S.W.2d 631 (Tenn. 1983); Southern Railway Co. v. City of Memphis, 126 Tenn. 267, 148 S.W. 662 (1912); Allen v. Farnsworth, 13 Tenn. 189 (1833); County Highway Commission of Rutherford County v. Smith, 61 Tenn. App. 292, 454 S.W. 2d 124 (1969).

[4] Trustees of New Pulaski Cemetery v. Ballentine, 151 Tenn. 622, 271 S.W. 38 (1924); County Highway Commission of Rutherford County v. Smith, supra.

[5] State ex rel. v. Oliver, 162 Tenn. 100, 35 S.W.2d 396 (1931); Anderson v. Turberville, 46 Tenn. 150 (1868).

[6] Claiborne County v. Jennings, 199 Tenn. 161, 285 S.W.2d 132 (1955); Knox County v. Kennedy, 92 Tenn. 1, 20 S.W. 311 (1892); Shelby County v. Armour, 495 S.W.2d 816 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1971).

[7] Rivergate Wine and Liquors Inc. v. City of Goodlettsville, supra; Duck River Electric Membership Corp. v. City of Manchester, 529 S.W. 2d 202 (Tenn. 1975); City of Knoxville v. Heth, supra; Zirkle v. City of Kingston, 217 Tenn. 210, 396 S.W.2d 356 (1965); City of Memphis v. Wright, 14 Tenn. 497 (1834).

[8] Provided that these improvements will be put to a public use. Webb v. Knox County Transmission Co., 143 Tenn. 423, 225 S.W. 1046 (1920); Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Co. v. Paint Rock Flume & Transportation Co., 128 Tenn. 277, 160 S.W. 522 (1913); Alfred Phosphate Co. v. Duck River Phosphate Co., 120 Tenn. 260, 113 S.W. 410 (1907); Ryan v. Louisville & Nashville Terminal Co., 102 Tenn. 111, 50 S.W. 744 (1899).

[9] Instances where the power of eminent domain was delegated by private act of the General Assembly are not included.

[10] American Telephone & Telegraph Co. v. Proffitt, 903 S.W.2d 309 (Tenn. App. 1995); Claiborne County v. Jennings, supra; Clouse v. Garfinkle, 190 Tenn. 677, 231 S.W.2d 345 (1950); Vinson v. Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway, 45 Tenn. App. 161, 321 S.W.2d 841 (1958); Rogers v. City of Knoxville, 40 Tenn. App. 170. 289 S.W.2d 868 (1955).

[11] Alcoa Development and Housing Authority v. Monday, Docket No 196; 1991 W L 12291. (Tenn. App. 1991).

[12] Clouse v. Garfinkle, supra; Tennessee Power Co. v. Rust, 8 Tenn. Civ. App. 368 (1918).

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