Before eminent domain can be used, a property must be declared blighted in that it poses an economic and social liability. In the past, these two elements have been considered jointly, a position favored by Judge Ronnie White in his solo dissent. The court majority, however, said each element must be proven separately.
The court said Clayton adequately demonstrated economic liability by showing the property in question would generate more tax revenue after redevelopment. However, the court said there was no proof the property as it currently exists is conducive to crime or threats to the public health and therefore did not represent a social liability. The redevelopment area covers some of the most expensive real estate in the St. Louis area and included thriving businesses that had been at their locations for generations.
The decision won’t prohibit future use of eminent domain for private development but does set a higher standard for establishing blight. Simply demonstrating that a property would be more productive if redeveloped is insufficient to determining blight without also proving the existing use constitutes a social liability.