I am often asked whether governmental actions can cause a taking even if the government does not formally initiate an eminent domain case. These cases are known as "de facto" or "inverse condemnations" and are difficult to prove. However, establishing a de facto taking can have substantial benefits.
The Commonwealth Court recently affirmed a trial court’s ruling finding that we proved a de facto taking in Philadelphia.
Our client was in the process of developing a property for residential condominiums. It took substantial steps including obtaining architectural and engineering designs and lining up financing. PennDOT, however, targeted the property for a road project and announced in August, 2006 that it was going to condemn the property. PennDOT did not initiate a condemnation action until May, 2009. However, we alleged that PennDOT’s action destroyed any opportunity to develop the property for its "highest and best use" – condominiums – and caused a de facto taking.
After a two day hearing involving testimony of four experts and numerous fact witnesses, the Judge ruled that PennDOT’s actions constituted a de facto taking by December 2006. PennDOT appealed. After briefing and oral argument, the Commonwealth Court affirmed that ruling and found that we proved a de facto taking.
This has a significant impact on the case. For example, the property will now be valued as of December 2006 and not May 2009. PennDOT will also be required to pay professional fees (attorneys, experts, etc.) for the entire case.