Brockton, Massachusetts has decided to commission a study investigating the feasibility of using eminent domain powers to address foreclosures. They will examine if seizing the mortgages of local residents struggling to pay off their loans can be possible using eminent domain.
In case you are wondering: what is eminent domain? Eminent domain is an action of the state to seize private property without the owner’s consent by providing just compensation. The rule is normally applied when building highways, train tracks or public property for the benefit of a community and the action is protected by the U.S. Constitution under the Fifth Amendment.
Foreclosure, the other important term in this particular case, is a specific legal process in which a lender (such as a bank) attempts to recover the balance of a loan (such as a mortgage) from a borrower who has stopped making payments to the lender by forcing the sale of the asset (in this case a home) used as the collateral for the loan.
When people lose their homes, it adds blight to our communities, depresses housing prices across the board and increases public safety concerns such as squatters, vandalism and even health issues.
The plan being studied would essentially use municipal government’s prerogative of eminent domain to take possession of foreclosed residential mortgage notes, selling them back to residents, as the City Council resolution put it, “for the purpose of removing blight and restoring family home-ownership within the city.”
The city would also focus on seizing the mortgages of “underwater” homeowners, those who owe more on their homes than their current appraised worth and would greatly benefit from a new loan that resets the value of their property. Such a framework would amount to using government power to do social good.
The move is the latest revival of an idea that has been unevenly embraced by some of the communities worst hit by the collapse of the housing market in 2007. Fittingly enough, using eminent domain did not have its genesis with the community organizers now pushing it forward, but in high finance, where a firm called Mortgage Resolution Partners — which hopes to make a tidy profit providing financing for the schema — first suggested the plan.
The program would work like this: First, the city would identify which mortgages are most likely to default or which have defaulted, and then “seize” the mortgages using eminent domain. A private company would provide the funds for the city to purchase the mortgages at their fair market value. The city, once securing the loans, would allow owners to stay in their home and to refinance at current market value. The refinanced mortgage would allow homeowners to both reduce their principal balance and reduce their monthly mortgage payments, while also providing equity. The refinance proceeds are then used to pay off the private company who funded the eminent domain process. In the end, it would all come with no financial risk to taxpayers, and homeowners would be able to keep their homes by paying a fair, affordable rate on their mortgage.
The idea, that company says, is “to stabilize local housing markets and economies” by engaging in de-facto re-financings that offer more generous terms to financially strapped homeowners.
Not everyone, of course, believes that’s such a great plan. Among the various finance industry groups that sent letters to the City Council opposing the consideration of eminent domain, the American Securitization Forum said the idea is half-baked, unhelpful and likely unconstitutional. Eminent domain lawyers agree that any resolution gained from the study must be heavily considered before implementing any action.
The Brockton city council is not the first to think of this unconventional use of eminent domain. In California, cities such as San Bernardino are also considering this resolution.
More than 70 environmental groups called on President Obama to take the lead on climate change this week, urging him to shut down aging power plants and block a controversial tar sands pipeline project, Keystone XL. In their open letter, they reminded Obama of his promise to act on climate change during his second term.
What is Keystone XL?
The Keystone XL pipeline is a project headed by TransCanada Corp. The proponents of the pipeline plan for it will to transport Canadian tar-sands crude oil to Gulf Coast refineries. More specifically, it will cross from northeastern Alberta, Canada into multiple destinations in the United States, which include refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma, and proposed connections to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas.
What has been happening in the past with Keystone XL?
With Canadian regulatory approval received from the National Energy Board (NEB) in 2010, the Keystone XL Pipeline saga began, waiting for approval from US regulators, namely President Obama. Because the route crosses international borders, TransCanada needs a presidential permit from the State Department to construct the pipeline.
January 2012, Obama rejected the proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline on federal land. He delayed a decision on the pipeline, citing environmental concerns over the pipeline’s planned route near a major aquifer and the Sandhills in Nebraska. The State Department announced it will not approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in its current form but would allow TransCanada to re-apply once it has devised a new route avoiding sensible ecosystems.
March 2012, a GOP-led bill (amendment to approve Keystone XL in the transportation bill) sought to speed up the construction, but that was rejected by the Senate. The US State Department announced that they would wait until after the 2012 election to make a decision of whether or not to go through with the controversial project.
May 2012 TransCanada rerouted its proposed path and submits a new application with a modified route through Nebraska.
December 2012, an appeals court in Texas ruled that TransCanada, could in fact use eminent domain to seize land for the construction of the pipeline. Via eminent domain, TransCanada has been able to etch out the pipeline’s path, settling with private landowners and their condemnation lawyers along the way.
January 2013, the final review of the pipeline found that the new proposed route avoids sensitive regions that have been a source of environmental concern, removing a major barrier to the project’s receiving final approval from President Obama.
The Keystone XL controversy
First and foremost, the primary Keystone XL concerns are environmental. In addition to worrying about potential spills, environmental groups are concerned about the product the pipeline will carry – an unconventional oil known as oil sands, a thick and heavy oil that is often mined. It has to be diluted with other hydrocarbons to move it through a pipeline. And according to environmentalists, the extraction of the oil from the tar sands creates far more greenhouse emissions than conventional production does.
It is clear that environmental concerns are only part of the controversy that has been brewing over the Keystone pipeline. To build such a massive project through the heartland of North America, TransCanada has slowly been acquiring property rights to build each section of the pipeline, sometimes employing state power to overtake private property through eminent domain, and paying property owners through condemnation compensation. Landowners are generally not happy with this order.
President Obama has yet to state his decision on whether or not the pipeline can connect to Canada, going over country borders, to bring oil from Alberta to the Gulf region.
TransCanada, however, says it is confident the US will eventually grant permission to build the pipeline. It plans to begin construction in 2013 and hopes to have the pipeline up and running by early 2015. TransCanada has already begun building the southern portion of Keystone, now called the Gulf Coast project.
Despite what the company or environmentalists say, the decision lays in President Obama’s hands.
In addition to Obama winning his second term, there was another outcome of the 2012 Elections that caused much debate in the press: Virginia became the latest state to pass a law limiting the state government’s power of eminent domain. This led to many people asking, “What is eminent domain?” and “Can eminent domain affect me?”
Eminent domain is “the power to take private property for public use by a state, municipality, or private person or corporation authorized to exercise functions of public character, following the payment of just compensation to the owner of that property.”
It is an action of the state to seize private property without the owner’s consent by providing just compensation. The rule is normally applied when building highways, train tracks or public property for the benefit of a community and the action is protected by the United States Constitution.
For many people, eminent domain is a concept that they are aware of and disagree with, but do not think it can happen to them. This could be true up until 2005, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution grants the government the right to take private property – homes, businesses, and other property – and sell or give it to another private entity if jobs and taxes could be generated (Kelo versus City of New London, Connecticut, 2005).
The City of New London pressed the high court to vote in favor of economic development projects that create jobs, increases taxes and other revenue, and revitalizes a depressed or blighted area that qualifies as “public use.” The courts ruled that private economic development is a public use under the Fifth Amendment – “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”. Thanks to that decision, the government can take any private land, as long as it promotes the economy.
The state government, or a designated developer, can negotiate to buy your property just like any other buyer might. If you and the government can not agree a price, then it can proceed with eminent domain. You can hire a eminent domain lawyer to defend your case, and ensure that you receive just and fair compensation for your property.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, since 2005 44 states have enacted legislation or passed ballot measures during in response to the Kelo decision. For this reason, it is important for a person to know that their rights as a property owner vary signficantly by state. Also, the eminent domain process differs between states, and in some states lawyer fee’s will be reimbursed by the condeming authority, while in others, the property owner will have to cover the costs themselves.
The eminent domain process can be stopped if the proposed taking does not meet the requirements for public necessity or public purpose, but you will need to be aware of the requirements in your state before filing suit.
California’s Proposition 30, a Sales and Income Tax Increase Initiative, was approved on November 6, 2012 as an initiated constitutional amendment. San Francisco to San Diego tax preparation specialists agree that the initiative will affect all taxpaying citizens.
Governor Jerry Brown led the charge for the pasing of Proposition 30, which was a merger of two previously competing initiatives; the “Millionaire’s Tax” and Brown’s First Tax Increase Proposal.
The short-form (ballot label) summary for Proposition 30 said: “Increases taxes on earnings over $250,000 for seven years and sales taxes by ¼ cent for four years, to fund schools. Guarantees public safety realignment funding. Fiscal Impact: Increased state tax revenues through 2018–19, averaging about $6 billion annually over the next few years. Revenues available for funding state budget. In 2012–13, planned spending reductions, primarily to education programs, would not occur.”
More specifically, the proposition raises California’s sales tax to 7.5 percent from 7.25 percent, a 3.45 percentage increase over current law. It creates four high-income tax brackets for taxpayers with taxable incomes exceeding $250,000, $300,000, $500,000 and $1,000,000. This increased tax will be in effect for 7 years.
It imposes a 12.3 percent tax rate on taxable income over $500,000 up to $1,000,000 – a percentage increase of 32.26% over current policy of 9.3%, and imposes a 13.3% tax rate on taxable income over $1,000,000 – a percentage increase of 29.13% over current “millionaires tax” policy of 10.3%. Based on California Franchise Tax Board data for 2009, the additional income tax is imposed on the top 3% of California taxpayers – the richest citizens.
Estimated revenue from Proposition 30 range from Jerry Brown’s estimate of $9 billion to the $6.8 billion estimated by the non-partisan Legislative Analysts Office (LAO).
Accountant Oceanside and accountant Encinitas specialists agree that this is a huge success for the state, as the passage of Proposition 30 will aid the state in pulling itself out of a years-long financial crisis. Governor Brown’s finance director, Ana Matosantos, credits “a sound budget, diligent debt management, and the passage of Proposition 30″ for the financial win. California officials say that there is a plan to pay back most of the state debt by 2016.
It is important to note that the increase in taxes will not allow for more government or state spending. The money has already been spent, in theory, and this surge from taxes will help cover the deficit that the state owes.
Since 2009, 13 wrongful death lawsuits have cited the possible association to 5-Hour Energy, a highly caffeinated energy shot, according to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) records. In addition, there have been over 90 filings with the FDA, with one third involving serious or life-threatening injuries such as heart attacks. The results from the reports will affect how cardiologists in Florida to California think about energy products.
5-Hour Energy, owned by company Living Essentials, takes in around 80 percent of the energy drink market, although it is considered a dietary supplement rather than energy drink, and for that reason is not regulated by the FDA. In addition to caffeine, 5-Hour Energy also contains high levels of B vitamins, glucuronolactone, malic acid, taurine, and other ingredients.
In 2010 a wrongful death lawsuit was filed when a man, age 27, died after experiencing a heart attack. His lawyer claims that Living Essentials failed to properly warn consumers of the associated health risks of 5-Hour Energy, and that the labels falsely lead consumers to believe that there has been clinical testing on the safety of the products.
According to the 2010 5-Hour Energy lawsuit, the victim’s doctors claimed that the drink was the sole cause for his heart attack. Living Essentials has kept the specific recipe for the drink a secret, but the lawsuit claims that the ingredients contained in the drink are known to increase the risk of strokes, blood clots, heart attacks, and other illnesses.
Unlike most energy drinks, 5-Hour Energy is sold in a two-ounce bottle. Living Essentials does not release the amount of caffeine in each bottle, but a recent Consumer Reports study estimated that the level is most likely around 215 milligrams – for reference, an average eight-ounce cup of coffee contains 100 to 150 milligrams. Living Essentials does, on the other hand, state that only two 5-Hour Energy bottles should be consumed in one day, several hours apart.
The reports filed with the FDA do not indicate that 5-Hour Energy is responsible for any death or injury. The reports are only investigative. Regarding caffeine regulations, the FDA has stated that it does not have sufficient scientific evidence to justify altering the current regulations for energy products. However, specialists from the Cardiovascular Institute of Northwest Florida would agree that any individuals with prior heart conditions should avoid the consumption of energy drinks.
Voters in Virginia in the November 6 election passed approval for an amendment to the state’s Constitution that will limit the government’s power to use eminent domain to take private property. The Constitutional Amendment changes the rules for taking property through eminent domain, making it much harder for the government to take private property for public use.
The United States Supreme Court (USSC) ruled in 2005 that the United States Constitution grants the government the right to take private property – homes, businesses, and other property – and sell or give it to another private entity if jobs and taxes could be generated (Kelo versus City of New London, Connecticut, 2005). The courts ruled that private economic development is a public use under the Fifth Amendment.
However, with the amendment in order, the changes will become part of the state constitution on January 1, 2013. After that date a person’s private property can only be taken for a public – not private – use. This means that the VA state government cannot take land and transfer it to another private entity, even if that transfer will promote economic development. In addition, if the situation arises when someone’s property is taken, then only the absolutely necessary amount of property can be taken and the property owner must receive fair compensation for both the loss of property and lost profits that property would have provided.
Supporters of the amendment claimed that that changes are necessary because the 2005 USSC ruling gave the government too much power to use eminent domain for private economic development projects. They believed that their property rights were so fundamental that they surpassed those of the government and needed to be included in the VA Consitution.
The changes were opposed by many Republicans and Democrats alike, as it may force the state government and municipalities to pay more money for what they claim are appropriate uses of eminent domain. The amendment may cost both over tens of millions of dollars for both the local and state governments.
In future taking decisions, chances are that an eminent domain lawyer will need to be hired to consult the government on how to follow the law correctly and to review the possible outcomes of such proposals. Even with the opposition, the amendment passed with flying colors, passing with 75 percent of the voters for the limits on eminent domain.
The 2005 Kelo decision informed the public about eminent domain abuse. Since the decision, polls have consistently shown that US citizens are against eminent domain and support initiatives that could ammend the legislation to better protect private property rights. 44 other states have made amendments to their constitutions to reduce the government’s power to take private property though eminent domain.
On top of everything else Hurricane Sandy brought to the New York region this week, what’s 336,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled into our waters? The Gothamist reports that during the storm’s surge on Monday night the oil escaped from the Motiva oil tank facility in Woodbridge, New Jersey, and poured into the Arthur Kill that separates the Garden State from Staten Island. How exactly it got loose is not entirely clear.
The Office of Response and Restoration at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that the U.S. Coast Guard “requested scientific support from NOAA’s Emergency Response Division for three separate oil spills in Arthur Kill,” as well as “reports of several orphan containers, and many potential hazmat targets.”
But on the plus side, Coast Guard spokesman Les Tippets says a secondary tank caught most of the oil and that the liquid that escaped moved into the Arthur Kill. On top of that, two hundred responders were on scene to contain it for much of the day yesterday.
Still? This is just one of the many reasons why yesterday the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene put out an advisory saying “that direct contact with the Hudson River, East River, New York Harbor, Jamaica Bay and the Kill Van Kull for recreational activities such as swimming, canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing or any other water activity that would entail possible direct contact with the water should be avoided until further notice.”
It seems like Lance Armstrong’s glory days are over. The world cycling commission’s decision to strip the cereal box hero of his seven Tour de France wins will cost the once famed bicyclist millions, according to just compensation lawyer experts. The International Cycling Union recently accepted US Anti-Doping Agency report and confirmed the biggest doping scandal in the sport’s history, erasing his record back to August 1, 1998.
It doesn’t end there. Just as the 41-year-old’s major triumphs were scrapped off the history books and officials vowed to intensify the fight against banned substances, former donors and sponsors have also begun to demand his prize money, bonuses and other pay-outs, asking for compensation for their deception.
Reports have said the Dallas insurance company SCA Promotions is demanding the return of millions of dollars in bonuses paid to Armstrong. ESPN commentator David Munson has also said his US Postal Services team will likely to want some of their investment back, and they’re not the only ones.
Even Dutch bank Rabobank was not awaiting any further review. It announced Friday that, after 17 years of sponsoring professional cycling teams, it will end its program at the end of the year.
Rabobank said it had previously seen elite cycling as a good fit with the company, its clients and its employees. But that has changed since the USADA report alleging doping by Armstrong and others.
The Tour de France also wants it’s prize money returned.
All these factors are combining into a tsunami of horror for the former cycling all star supposed prodigy. Not only has the doping scandal created a public relations nightmare for Armstrong, but it will likely cost him millions of dollars, according to just compensation attorney experts.
Armstrong, who reportedly has an estimated net worth of $125 million, has already taken a financial hit, as high-profile sponsors including sportswear firm Nike have dropped him from marketing campaigns. Business magazine Forbes said on its website on Monday that Armstrong could lose $15 million a year in endorsements and speaking fees.
SCA withheld a $5 million bonus due after Armstrong’s sixth Tour win in 2004 because of doping allegations in Europe. The rider took the Dallas, Texas, firm to court and was awarded the cash, plus $2.5 million in legal fees and interest.
On the legal front, he could yet fact court action for perjury after swearing on oath that he never doped. If any charge is pursued, the maximum penalty is up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1.5 million.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is advising Californians who are preparing to file tax returns to take the Registered Tax Return Preparer competency test.
The tax competency test is a benchmark of minimum competency required for tax preparation Oceanside and other county specialists to acquire their professional credentials. The test, being administered nationwide, is skills based containing 120 questions. The test is timed at two and a half hours. The person taking the test should be able to successfully prepare the tax returns without the aid of a software program.
Over 60 percent of taxpayers in the United States use a tax preparer for their tax returns. The purpose of the test is to make sure that these prepares have a minimum competency level to be paid to prepare tax return. New IRS rules require any professional tax return preparer to must register with the IRS and acquire a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN).
The text had been available since November 2011, and the deadline to take it is December 31, 2013. However, more than 310,000 tax preparer professionals nationwide still need to pass the test, which is why the IRS is advising California tax preparation Encinitas professionals to take the test immediately. In California, approximately 36,000 tax preparers still need to pass the test.
The IRS has stated that as the deadline approaches, registration for test will get more tricky as seats at the official testing centers will be filled up. Attorneys, certified public accountants, enrolled agents, and certain supervised preparers, are exempt from the exam. In January 2014, the IRS will post list to the public identifying which tax preparers have the appropriate professional credentials. Only Registered Tax Return Preparers and those exempt from the test will be legally allowed to participate in tax return preparation.
For more information on California tax preparation, please visit DePauw Tax.
Monika Samaan a 14-year-old girl from Sydney, Australia, was left brain-damaged, cannot speak and is now confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, because she ate a salmonella-tainted KFC chicken twister seven years ago.
In April, an Australian dispute resolution Sydney court ordered KFC to pay her and her family 8 million Australian dollars, in damages, the Daily Mail reported, but now the young girl is in danger of losing her award after the food giant’s lawyers appealed the ruling last week.
Samaan’s parents said the money would be a great help for her ongoing care – but lawyers for the fast food giant said it had filed papers contesting the court’s finding and the award.
KFC’s recent decision to appeal places Miss Samaan in danger of losing all or part of the money – and could also result in her family having to pay additional legal costs.
KFC denied it was responsible for Miss Samaan’s brain damage but during the court hearing a number of poor hygiene practices were revealed at the store in the suburb of Villawood where the family purchased their chicken meals.
Lawyers for the company told the New South Wales Surpreme Court that they have formal lodged appeal submissions, based on three factors. They said there had been a ‘failure to consider evidence’ during the initial hearing, an ‘error in the judge’s factual findings’ and an error in the weight given to certain evidence.
Through their own lawyers, the Samaan family immediately hit back at KFC’s appeal submissions, saying they were ‘an amorphous restatement’ of what had been said during the trial.
It is understood that with the appeal pending the Samaan family, who live in a modest home in Sydney, have not received any of the award money. The Samaan family is hoping to reach some kind of out of court settlement through mediation or arbitration Sydney to help avoid the legal costs of an ongoing legal battle with the giant food corporation.
When the judge announced the award in April, family lawyer George Vlahakis said the compensation was ‘very much needed.’
He added: ‘Monika’s severe brain damage and severe disability has already exhausted the very limited resources of the family.’
During the initial hearing the court heard that after dining at KFC Miss Samaan and her brother both ended up in hospital, but she was left significantly the worse of the two.
Referring to Miss Samaan’s parents, Mr Vlahakis said: ‘Monika is now a big girl and they are finding it increasingly difficult to lift her and to look after her basic needs as well as look after Monika’s younger siblings.’