Pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, the government can acquire real and personal property of a citizen for a public purpose, but the person must be provided just compensation. Most federal condemnations are initiated by filing a Declaration of Taking pursuant to the Declaration of Taking Act. See 40 U.S.C. § 3114.

The condemnation lawsuit is initiated when the government, or petitioner, files a complaint in the United States District Court for the district in which the property is located. The complaint must contain a short and plain statement of the following: (1) the legal authority for the taking; (2) the uses for which the property is to be taken; (3) a description sufficient to identify the property; (4) the interests to be acquired; and (5) for each piece of property, a designation of each defendant who has been joined as an owner or other interest holder. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 71.1. The government must join any defendants that have or claim to have an interest in the property and whose names are then known.

Before, a hearing on compensation due, the government must join any defendants whose names subsequently become known or can be found by a reasonably diligent search of the records. The defendants must be served a copy of the complaint and notice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4. A defendant that has an objection or defense to the taking must serve an answer within 21 days after being served with the notice. The answer must identify the property, state the nature and extent of the interest, and state all the defendant’s objections and defenses to the taking. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 71.1. Additionally, within the time to answer, the defendant must also demand a jury trial.

In a federal condemnation action, the court tries all issues, except when compensation must be determined: (1) by any tribunal specially constituted by a federal state to determine compensation; or (2) by a jury when a party demands one within the time to answer, unless the court appoints a commission. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 71.1. Thus, even when a party demands a jury, the court may instead appoint a thee-person commission to determine compensation because of the character, location, or quantity of the property to be condemned “or for other just reasons.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 71.1. Before appointing the commissioners, the court must advise the parties of the identity and qualifications of each prospective commissioner and any alternate commissioners, and may permit the parties to examine them. For good cause, the parties may object to a prospective commissioner or alternate.

When determining “just compensation,” the parties usually present appraisal reports to help determine the fair market value of the subject property.

For more information on how the procedures related to federal eminent domain cases, email Clint Schumacher.