Poletown Neighborhood Council v. City of Detroit Case Brief

Summary of Poletown Neighborhood Council v. City of Detroit, Supreme Ct. of MI (1981)

Parties: Residents of a Detroit neighborhood (plaintiffs-appellants) v. city of Detroit.

Cause of action/remedy sought: The remedy sought was an injunction to stop the project on the ground that it would take the property for a private use rather than a public use.

Procedural History: The PL’s (appellants) challenged the necessity for the taking of the land for the proposed project. The city then presented evidence that there were severe economic conditions facing the residents of the city and state and that the new industrial development would boost the economy.

Facts: Detroit planned to condemn a residential neighborhood, clear the land, and convey it to General Motors as a site for construction of an assembly plant. Residents of the neighborhood complained saying that this was a private taking. PL’s alleged that it was unconstitutional for gov’t to use its eminent domain power to condemn one person’s property to convey it to another so as to bolster the economy. DF’s on the other hand, contended that there was a public purpose of taking the land which was to prevent unemployment and fiscal (economic) distress.

Issue(s): Under MI law, is the proposed condemnation for public benefit or private user when a private business is noted to receive some benefit from the program?

Holding: Yes, the proposed condemnation was for public benefit, and thus falls within the means set by the legislature.

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: The benefit being received by General Motors (private interest) here was purely incidental. The project fell within the public purpose as stated by the Legislature (adding job or commercial base). As long as the public benefit is clear and significant, the court will not sanction approval of such a project. Strict scrutiny is applied to make sure that the public interest is the predominant interest being advanced.

Rule: Condemnation for public use is permitted, and condemnation for a private use is forbidden. Condemnation for a private use cannot be authorized whatever its incidental public benefit and condemnation for a public purpose cannot be forbidden whatever the incidental private gain.

Did court avoid issues?: No.

Dicta: No.

Dissents: There were 2 dissents. The first one said that the benefit to GM is not incidential to the taking. The second dissent said that the court’s decision had jeopardized the security of all private property ownership.

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