Court Rules Kansas City Suburb Can’t Seize a Burger King With Eminent Domain

Eminent domain has traditionally been used for “public uses,” like building roads or schools. But officials in North Kansas City, Mo., (a suburb that’s north of Kansas City) wanted to wield that “despotic power” to commit fast food regicide.Todd Gilbertson has been operating fast food restaurants for 35 years. But one of his restaurants, a Burger King he’s been operating for the past 15 years, was threatened with condemnation by North Kansas City.

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The city commissioned two blight studies which found there were blight factors in a proposed 57-acre redevelopment area. But even those studies determined that the Burger King itself wasn’t actually blighted. Nevertheless, North Kansas City still wanted to seize the property.

According to Gilbertson, “They offered about a third of what the property is really worth. There was nothing actually offered for the business itself. Just the land and the building.”

On January 14, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled against North Kansas City, declaring “the city does not have the authority to condemn the Burger King property…for the purpose of eliminating blight.” The court also chided the city for relying on such authority from “‘vague or doubtful language.’”

Read More: Missouri Town Once Declared 60% “Blighted” Votes to Ban Eminent Domain for Private Gain

Robert Denlow, a Missouri member of the Owners’ Counsel of America, represented Gilbertson and praised the decision in a statement:

North Kansas City was trying to forcibly take a successful business site for the eventual purpose of turning it over to a for-profit developer. Burger King creates jobs and pays substantial sales taxes and real estate taxes to the City. Yet, the City attempted to eliminate the Burger King. It just doesn’t make sense.

Good thing the court has some sense, since Missouri’s legislature has failed to protect citizens’ property rights. The state received a D in the Institute for Justice’s 50 State Report Card, which tracks eminent domain reform since the Kelo decision, meaning Missouri is among the worst in the nation. While lawmakers did try to reform the state’s eminent domain laws, it was plagued with loopholes, such as incredibly broad blight designations. For instance, “inadequate street layout,” and “obsolete platting” can trigger blight.

The city has yet to decide if it will appeal the ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court.

— Nick Sibilla
Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice

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