What is Eminent Domain?

Legal Definition
Eminent domain (United States, the Philippines), compulsory purchase (United Kingdom, New Zealand, Ireland), resumption (Hong Kong), resumption/compulsory acquisition (Australia), or expropriation (France, Mexico, South Africa, Canada, Brazil, Portugal, Spain) is the power of a state or a national government to take private property for public use. However, it can be legislatively delegated by the state to municipalities, government subdivisions, or even to private persons or corporations, when they are authorized by the legislature to exercise the functions of public character.

The property may be taken either for government use or by delegation to third parties, who will devote it to public or civic use or, in some cases, to economic development. The most common uses of property taken by eminent domain are for government buildings and other facilities, public utilities, highways and railroads, or for public safety. Some jurisdictions require that the acquirer make an offer to purchase the subject property, before resorting to the use of eminent domain.

However, once the property is taken and the judgment is final, the condemnor may put it to uses other than those specified in the eminent domain action.

Property of an owner may be taken either in its entirety (total take) or in part (part take), either quantitatively or qualitatively (either partially in fee simple or, commonly, an easement, or any other interest less than the full fee simple title).
-- Wikipedia
Legal Definition
The power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use. The Fifth Amendment provides that the government may only exercise this power if they provide just compensation to the property owners. see, e.g. Loretto v. Teleprompter Manhattan CATV Corp. 458 US 419 (1982).
  • The Annotated Constitution of the US entry on eminent domain
  • The LIIBULLETIN preview in San Remo Hotel v. San Francisco
  • The LIIBULLETIN preview in Kelo v. City of New London
  • The Harvard Bridge Project explanation of takings from the point of view of law and economics
  • The Harvard Bridge Project explanation of takings from the point of view of moral philosophy
Legal Definition
The right which people or government retain over the estates of individuals, to resume the same for public use.

2. It belongs to the legislature to decide what improvements are of sufficient importance to justify the exercise of the right of eminent domain. See 2 Hill. Ab. 568 1 U. S. Dig. 560; 1 Am. Eq. Dig. 312 3 Toull. n. 30 p. 23; Ersk. hist. B. 2) tit. 1, s. 2; Grotius, h. t. See Dominium.
-- Bouviers Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
Eminent domain is the right of the people or government to take private property for public use. Code Civ. Proc. Cal. § 1237; Cherokee Nation v. Southern Kan. R. Co. (D. C.) 33 Fed. 905; Comm. v. Alger, 7 Cush. (Mass.) 85; American Print Works v. Lawrence, 21 N. J. Law, 257; Twelfth St. Market Co. v. Philadelphia & R. T. R. Ch, 142 Pa. 580, 21 Atl. 989; Todd v. Austin, 34 Conn. 88; Kohl v. U. S., 91 In S. 371, 23 L. Ed. 449.

The right of eminent domain is the right of the state, through its regular organization, to reassert, either temporarily or permanently, its dominion over any portion of the soil of the state on account of public exigency and for the public good. Thus, in time of war or insurrection, the proper authorities may possess and hold any part of the territory of the state for the common safety; and in time of peace the legislature may authorize the appropriation of the same to public purposes, such as the opening of roads, construction of defenses, or providing channels for trade or travel. Code Ga. 1882, § 2222.

The right of society, or of the sovereign, to dispose, in case of necessity, and for the public safety, of all the wealth contained iu the state, is called "eminent domain." Jques v. Walker, 2 Paine, 688, Fed. Cas. No. 7,507.

Eminent domain is the highest and most exact idea of property remaining in the government, or in the aggregate body of the people in their sovereign capacity. It gives a right to resume the possession of the property in the manner
-- Black's Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
The right to take private property for public use upon making compensation therefor. Sec 133 N. Y. 329, 28 Am. St. Rep. 640, and note, 16 L. R. A. 180, 31 N. E. 102.
-- Ballentine's Law Dictionary