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Understanding eminent domain

The concept of eminent domain can seem daunting to property owners. In Pennsylvania, eminent domain encompasses the laws and statutes that allow the state government to seize private property for specific purposes, including what conditions make this acceptable and what conditions do not - as well as whether or not the government is required to compensate property owners for the seizure.

Per Pennsylvania state code, the government may condemn and seize property for the sake of public improvement or to eliminate blight. Public improvement can include tearing down unsafe and derelict properties, or it can include implementation of public works such as highways, schools, parks and other civic works activities. While in some cases non-government entities can enact eminent domain, specific prohibitions prevent taking of properties for private business use in most cases.

One such eminent domain case that has been highly contested in Pennsylvania is the case of the Sunoco Pipeline Project. As reported by the Legal Intelligencer, Sunoco has been granted use of private land for a major pipeline project. Five appeals brought by multiple landowners were heard before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, challenging the right of eminent domain to use their land for business purposes. The cases were struck down by the Supreme Court and the Sunoco plan for land usage continued forward.

The reason that a private business was able to use eminent domain in this case is because the pipeline service is considered by the state to be a public utility. Under Pennsylvania eminent domain law, private property can be condemned and taken for public utility purposes.

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