U.S. Supreme Court Considers Hearing N.Y. Self-Storage Eminent Domain Case

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One self-storage owner’s battle against eminent domain continues as the U.S. Supreme Court meets today to consider whether it will re-evaluate the legality of the case.

After years of court battles and appeals, self-storage owner Nicholas Sprayregen lost his fight in a New York eminent domain case against Columbia University last summer. The New York Court of Appeals in Albany ruled in June the state can use its eminent domain power to acquire private property for an expansion for Columbia University. Eminent domain is state seizure of private property for the “public good” in exchange for market-rate compensation.

The ruling reversed a lower court ruling from December 2009 that stopped the state from taking property from Sprayregen and Gurnam Singh and Parminder Kaur, the owners of two gas stations. Sprayregen owns four Tuck-It-Away Self Storage facilities in Manhattanville.

Now the U.S. Supreme Court could decide to grant certiorari—the official term for agreeing to hear a case. If it denies certiorari, the state will be able to seize the private properties on the University’s behalf. The court, which has officially scheduled this case for conference today, grants just one percent of all petitions for certiorari.

Columbia unveiled plans to build a satellite campus in 2003 and has since attempted to obtain parts of a 17-acre site in Upper Manhattan for its $6.3 billion expansion. After Sprayregen refused to sell his property, Columbia sought to obtain the land through eminent domain.

The legal battle began in December 2008, when Empire State Development Corp., the state agency that approves eminent domain, deemed the neighborhood “blighted.” Sprayregen, Singh, and Kaur then filed lawsuits.

Sprayregen told Inside Self-Storage last summer that he was “stunned” by the Court of Appeals’ decision and reversal of the prior Appellate ruling. “The Court of Appeals virtually ignored most of the facts we presented during the proceeding.”

Although he hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the case, he told ISS, “I am enough of a realist to know they only take 1 percent or 2 percent of the cases brought to their attention.”

The last Supreme Court eminent domain decision was Kelo v. City of New London in 2005, in which property owners lost their case.

If the Supreme Court refuses the case, the business owners will be out of options, paving the way for Columbia University’s proposed expansion. The court is expected to make a decision by Monday. 

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