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New England Estates Will Seek U.S. Supreme Court Review: $12.4 Million Jury Verdict For Eminent Domain Abuse Was Reversed in February by the Connecticut Supreme Court

July 20, 2010

New England Estates, LLC (NEE), a developer whose $12.4 million jury verdict against the Town of Branford, Conn. for eminent domain abuse three years ago was reversed in February 2010 by the Connecticut Supreme Court, will now ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the State court's opinion. The company has hired one of the foremost eminent domain lawyers in the country to lead the petition filing in Washington, D.C.

NEE has retained Attorney Michael Berger of the Los Angeles office of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP to join its legal team which is led by Shipman & Goodwin LLP of Hartford, Conn. Atty. Berger is one of the nation's best-known property rights and eminent domain lawyers. He has argued several cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, and filed papers in hundreds more.

"Mike Berger is preeminent in the field of eminent domain law, and we are honored to have him on our team," said Attorney Timothy Hollister of Shipman & Goodwin LLP. Atty. Hollister has led NEE's litigation in the Connecticut courts since 2003 and argued the case in the Connecticut Supreme Court.

In 2003, NEE was on the verge of obtaining its final permit for a multi-family residential development in Branford, part of which would be preserved for low and moderate income households. The town then took the land by eminent domain, claiming potential contamination from its own nearby landfill.

In 2007, a jury found that the town's reasons for taking the land were false and awarded NEE an unprecedented $12.4 million in damages. The lower court added $1.5 million in attorneys' fees.

In February of this year, the Connecticut Supreme Court agreed that the town had acted "dishonestly" and had violated NEE's civil rights, but reversed NEE's damages award on the basis that NEE only had an option to buy the land and, thus, did not have a property interest protected by the federal Constitution. NEE will now ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review that decision.

NEE's petition will make use of a June 17, 2010 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court about beachfront land in Florida. The case, entitled Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, found that the property owners' rights had not been violated when Florida –without paying compensation – filled an eroded beach, taking away the owners' waterfronts. The case, however, revealed a sharp debate among the justices about the right of a state court to reverse established property rights under state law. "Petitions to the U. S. Supreme Court are always difficult," said Hollister, "but Stop the Beach Renourishment has provided a clear signal that what happened here in the Connecticut Supreme Court may be of interest to Washington."

NEE has until September 24, 2010 to file its petition.
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