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“Private property” does not include “public property”

In Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District v. City of Bellefontaine Neighbors, 476 S.W.3d 913 (Mo. 2016) the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of claims for inverse condemnation against a city. The City of Bellefontaine Neighbors allegedly damaged the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District’s (“MSD’s”) sewer lines in the course of a street improvement project. Article I, Section 26 of the Missouri Constitution provides protection against the taking of “private” property without just compensation. MSD made a claim for inverse condemnation alleging the City unintentionally took its property without just compensation. As a matter of first impression, the Court determined Article I, Section 26 does not give a public entity, like MSD, a constitutional right to just compensation for the taking of its property because the plain meaning of the word “private” does not include the word “public.” Further, the Court rejected MSD’s argument that sovereign immunity does not shield a public entity from liability for torts committed against another public entity and held, in the absence of a specific waiver or exception (such as the proprietary function exception), sovereign immunity applies between public entities, for it is the rule – not the exception.

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