U.S. Supreme Court Will Not Hear N.Y. Self-Storage Eminent Domain Case

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Self-storage owner Nicholas Sprayregen has ultimately lost his battle in a New York eminent domain case as the U.S. Supreme Court refuses Monday to reconsider the legality of his case.

Sprayregen, owner of four Tuck-It-Away Self Storage facilities in Manhattanville, and two other business owners reached out to the high court, hoping to reverse the decision by a lower court that paves the way for Columbia University to use eminent domain to take over the land on which their businesses reside.

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.

Columbia now has the legal right to move forward with its 17-acre expansion in West Harlem, from 125th to 134th streets, bordered by Broadway and 12th Avenue.

Sprayregen, Singh and Kaur, who refused for six years to sell their land, embarked on a two-year legal battle to maintain rights to their land.

"We are extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court of the United States decided not to hear this important eminent domain case," Norman Siegel, Sprayregen’s attorney and the former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told the Columbia Spectator. "The denial ... means that the abuse of eminent domain in New York stands."

The Supreme Court announced Friday it would consider to grant certiorari—the official term for agreeing to hear a case. The court grants just one percent of all petitions for certiorari. The last Supreme Court eminent domain decision was Kelo v. City of New London in 2005, in which property owners lost their case.

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.”

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