It took five years of battling in court, but piano tuner Charlie Birnbaum of Atlantic City, New Jersey, has claimed victory over the government-backed Casino Reinvestment and Development Authority, which wanted to confiscate his home.
The CRDA, which the government has empowered to condemn and take property, had demanded the home Birnbaum had inherited from his parents.
But the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled in his favor, and now the time period for any appeal has passed.
“It is an amazing accomplishment that our home still stands even after this assault by the very government entrusted to defend our rights – including our property rights,” Birnbaum said in a statement released by the Institute for Justice.
“This home represents a beacon of hope for people throughout New Jersey and across the country that the impossible can happen, that we can win despite the odds being against us. It should inspire us all to keep the faith no matter how dark the prospects for success might seem.”
His parents, Abe and Dora Birnbaum, both Holocaust survivors, left to him their home, where they lived after the catastrophe of World War II.
“They hoped to live safe and secure in a home that the government could not arbitrarily take from them, as had happened during the war,” the legal team explained.
The CRDA lost in court because it had no plan to use the property.
Even the CRDA admitted the Birnbaum property was seen as a “land bank” that might be slated for “future development.” Birnbaum refused an offer of about $238,000 for the property, and when the agency went to court, it said it needed the land for a project.
But the CRDA admitted it had a “concept” but no “plans” for a project or any agreements with developers.
“Rather,” the court found, “at an unspecified time, after a ‘massing plan’ had been approved by the CRDA’s board, the CRDA would put the project out for public bid.”
That amounted to land speculation, the court ruled.
The ruling upheld a lower-court decision by Atlantic County Assignment Judge Julio Mendez.
“Under these highly unusual circumstances, it was reasonable for the judge to question whether the project would proceed in the foreseeable future,” the ruling said. “… CRDA was attempting to ‘bank land in hopes that it will be used in a future undefined project.’ Approval of the condemnation could well leave the Birnbaum property vacant for an indefinite period of time, as the CRDA ‘wait[s] for the right project to present itself.’ … We affirm, because the CRDA could not provide evidence-based assurances that the project would proceed in the reasonably foreseeable future.”
Robert McNamara, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, said the condemnation “was an unjustified and unjustifiable land grab from the outset.”
“Fortunately for Charlie, the law, the courts, and the Institute for Justice stood between CRDA and the home his parents left him,” said McNamara, whose organization defended Birnbaum alongside the New Jersey eminent domain firm Potter & Dickson.