Private Takings

70 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2008 Last revised: 20 Apr 2010

See all articles by Abraham Bell

Abraham Bell

Bar Ilan University - Faculty of Law; University of San Diego School of Law

Date Written: September 26, 2008


Eminent domain, or the power to take, is generally analyzed as the quintessential government power. It is unsurprising, therefore, that scholars tend to operate from the basic assumption that eminent domain is solely an incident of the government's domain in the provision of public goods. This assumption has led to widespread criticism of the courts' evisceration of the public use requirement, and repetition of the mantra that the government cannot simply take from A in order to give to B.

In this Article, I show that this conception of takings is too narrow. In function, if not in name, eminent domain is simply another property arrangement, and, as such, it is adaptable to private property law even without state action. Indeed, private takings - i.e., takings carried out by non-governmental actors - have a solid basis in our legal system. Additionally, the justifications for government takings lend themselves just as well to private takings. Recognizing the importance and legitimacy of private takings leads to two central claims. First, I argue that private takings should often be a preferred mechanism for achieving goals generally accomplished today through public takings. Second, I show that identifying private takings as a vital category helps clarify the proper concerns of takings law - not only the constitutionally demanded just compensation offered for takings and the post-taking public use, but also to the pre-taking original use.

Having made these central claims, I posit that a comprehensive law of takings can be developed that encompasses both private and public takings. In the realm of theory, the Article circumscribes the place of takings within the broader theory of entitlements by defining takings within the context of mixed property and liability (pliability) rules. Normatively, the Article argues for the incorporation of private taking mechanisms into fields generally seen as the domain of classic property law and regulation.

Keywords: Takings, Private Property, Private Takings, Property Rules, Liability Rules, Pliability Rules

JEL Classification: H42, K00, K10, K11

Suggested Citation

Bell, Abraham, Private Takings (September 26, 2008). University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 76, No. 2, pp. 517-585, Spring, 2009, Bar Ilan Univ. Pub Law Working Paper No. 13-09, Available at SSRN:

Abraham Bell (Contact Author)

Bar Ilan University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Faculty of Law
Ramat Gan, 52900


University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States

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