COVID-19 and Eminent Domain

Odd to see the words “COVID-19” and “eminent domain” in a title, together. But unprecedented action has been taken to slow the transmission of COVID-19 and keep our health care system from surging past capacity. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the “Act”), a federal law passed in 1988, is “designed to bring an orderly and systematic means of federal natural disaster assistance for state and local governments in carrying out their responsibilities to aid citizens.” The Act was called into play on March 13, 2020, when a national emergency was declared to combat what was happening throughout the United States due to the spread of COVID-19.

Under the Act, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) has the power of eminent domain which allows the federal government to exercise the right of eminent domain to acquire private property, including real estate, medical supplies and equipment, food, etc., and to take immediate possession. The states of Washington, California, New Jersey and Louisiana, to name only a few, are using eminent domain to purchase facilities to use as quarantine centers, commandeer or utilize private property such as medical facilities, and to use and/or build out hotels to provide additional hospital beds.

Private citizens need to know that the power of eminent domain that the federal government can exercise in this national emergency does not eliminate the protections provided under the Fifth Amendment which states that “…private property shall not be taken for a public use without just compensation…” If a government entity contacts you about acquiring or using your property during this time of emergency, it is vital that you contact an experienced eminent domain attorney to aid in protecting your constitutional rights.