A federal appeals court recently held that a condemnee who successfully challenges a taking may be entitled to “just compensation” during the period between the filing of the declaration of taking and the revesting of title. In R&J Holding Company v. Montgomery County RDA, the property owner successfully challenged the taking of its property. The property owner was awarded its attorneys’ fees and expenses as mandated by Pennsylvania law in cases where there are successful condemnation challenges. That challenge took approximately five years including a review by Pennsylvania’s appellate courts.
The condemning authority, the Montgomery Count RDA, held title to the property throughout the state court action. The property owner filed an action in state court alleging it was deprived of certain fundamental property rights, including the right to improve the property and the right to sell the property during the pendency of the condemnation challenge. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court reversed rejected the claim holding that the Pennsylvania Eminent Domain limits a prevailing condemnee's recovery to professional fees and expenses. The Commonwealth Court's opinion never explicitly addressed whether denying just compensation violated the state or federal constitutions.
The property owner then filed suit in federal court seeking the “just compensation” promised by the Fifth Amendment. The RDA argued that there was no taking and that without an accompanying attempt to take physical possession of the property, transfer of title to the government does not constitute a taking. The Third Circuit rejected the argument finding that it was “a per se” taking because title to the land actually passed upon the filing of the Declaration of Taking.
The Third Circuit did not elaborate as to the nature of the “just compensation,” however. It will be interesting to monitor this case as it proceeds.