I tried an eminent domain case last week in Bucks County, PA. The condemnor – the PA Turnpike Commission – alleged the property was worth $850,000. We alleged on behalf of the property owner that the property was worth $2.3 million. The jury deliberated for 3 hours and came back with a verdict of our exact amount – $2.3 million. I am thrilled for my clients who are great people.

The NC House is considering a bill that would result in an eminent domain amendment to the NC Constitution. House Bill 3 would place the amendment on the November 2018 ballot. The bill would not allow private property to be taken by eminent domain, or to be condemned, except for public use. The bill does not define public use. The US Constitution and many states have similar requirement.

Another bill adds communications and natural gas facilities and pipelines to those projects for which eminent domain is allowed for infrastructure projects. In cases where public use is permitted, HB 3 would require “just compensation” be paid and the amount determined by a jury if requested.

The NC House has submitted similar bills at least five previous times since a the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court Kelo decision. However, none were enacted by both houses.

Indiana is considering a bipartisan eminent domain bill. House Bill 1260 made it out of the House of Representatives with a 95-0 vote and is expected to go before a Senate committee Monday. The bill is in response to a proposed freight train line by Great Lakes Basin Transportation. The proposed bill, which would take effect July 1 if it makes it out of the Senate and Gov. Eric Holcomb signs it, states that any rail line must follow Indiana’s incorporation rules, and a rail line must show the end result would be good for a community. It also amends appraisal related requirements.

I tried a case in York County, PA in July involving a condemnation of the former York County Prison. My clients purchased the property in the ‘80s and were waiting for the right time to develop the property when it was taken by the City of York RDA.

The RDA claimed it was worth about $65,000. We presented evidence that the property was worth $1,250,000.

After less than ½ hour, the Jury returned a verdict of $1,250,000 – the full amount we alleged.

Unfortunately, the RDA chose to file post-trial motions to set aside the verdict. However, the Judge rejected each and every argument. He found that the verdict was well supported by “thorough and credible” evidence. Once again, it was very gratifying to see that the Judge and Jury agreed with our evidence and we hope the RDA will now pay what our clients rightfully deserve.

The N.C. Court of Appeals has issued a stay of a Forsyth County Superior Court Judge’s order directing the N.C. Department of Transportation to make payments to property owners in the path of the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway. Forsyth Superior Court Judge John O. Craig entered an order would have set in motion a procedure for the DOT to begin paying landowners who won an inverse condemnation ruling last June from the N.C. Supreme Court.

The State’s motion argued that Judge Craig’s order would require the state to “make unauthorized expenditures of public funds.”  That order requires N.C. to deposit funds equaling the estimated value of the lands allegedly taken which the property owners could withdraw at will.

A Connecticut Judge has ruled that the City of Hartford must pay an additional $3 million for property it acquired through eminent domain for development around Dunkin’ Donuts Park two years ago. The City acquired the three parcels in November 2014 for $1.98 million, based on the City’s appraisals. The property owner, Covered Bridge Ventures, appealed the price and a trial was held in February 2016.

“The most astounding shortcoming of both the City’s appraising experts is that neither of them took into account the ballpark …,” the Judge wrote in her ruling, adding that by July 2014 the city had already recognized the significant potential for the entire area in its requests for proposals from potential developers.

In her decision, Epstein also considered two appraisals done for Covered Bridge Ventures. She found an appraisal for $5.22 million to be “much too enthusiastic” for the court to rely upon. In her conclusion, Epstein found the second appraisal, for $4.81 million, to be the fair market value on Dec. 9, 2014, the date the city took the property by eminent domain.

A Texas state judge has ruled that a case must go to trial where the issue is whether a high-speed rail project developer has the authority to survey private lands and pursue eminent domain in order to draw the best route for a train that would run from Dallas to Houston. In Texas Central Railroad & Infrastructure Inc. v. Calvin V. House, Texas Central Railroad & Infrastructure Inc. filed a motion for summary judgment asking the court to deem the developer both a “railroad company” and an “interurban electric railway company” under Texas law which would enable it to survey private property for possible eminent domain. The suit seeks injunctive relief against Calvin House, a landowner who denied the company access to his 330-acre property.

In a one-page order filed Friday, Harris County District Judge Joseph J. Halbach Jr. denied the motion “in its entirety.”  The property owner argued that the fact that it would operate a railroad in the future wasn’t enough for it to claim it qualified as an “operating a railroad.”

The case will now proceed to trial.

The NJ Appellate Division recently decided a case involving an important and recurring issue – valuing a property for a use that requires land development approvals.  In New Jersey Transit Corp. v. Franco, Docket No. A-3802-12T4, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court due to “prejudicial error” in permitting the condemnees’ experts to value the property with an apartment complex as its highest and best use without establishing the reasonable probability of obtaining certain land development approvals.

The Appellate Division explained that the “crucial issue on appeal is whether the creation of a cul-de-sac . . . would have required and received approval by” the municipality. The condemnees’ experts assumed the municipality would not need to approve a use variance access or that the street could be dedicated to the municipality without need for a use variance.  New Jersey Transit contended that the experts’ opinions failed to analyze whether there was a reasonable probability of obtaining the variance or dedication.  Condemnee’s testified at trial over New Jersey Transit’s objections, which resulted in a jury award of $8.1 million.

The Appellate Division held that the condemnees were required to and failed to show a “reasonable probability” the municipality would either grant a use variance for the cul-de-sac or accept the dedication of the cul-de-sac as a public street. The Appellate Division expressed no opinion on whether the condemnees could, in fact, show such a reasonable probability and remanded the case for a new trial.

The site for the $180 million Downtown arena south of the convention center was approved Tuesday by the El Paso City Council.  They also gave the authority to purchase properties and use eminent domain if necessary.  The plan was approved in a 7-0 vote after more than two hours of discussion.  The city can now begin negotiating with property owners to acquire the land.  Mayor Oscar Leeser stated he does not support the use of eminent domain.

The arena will be built in the Union Plaza District and is bounded by West San Antonio Avenue, South Santa Fe Street, West Paisano Drive and Leon Street.  The area contains 42 parcels and includes the Greyhound bus station, some apartment complexes and other buildings. However, the city has identified a total of 22 properties for the arena footprint. Of those parcels, five are vacant or surface lots, seven are commercial, seven are residential and two are city owned, the city said.

The Appellate Division of Superior Court decided a case addressing the amount that should be held in escrow in eminent domain cases involving contaminated properties.  In Housing Authority v. Suydam Investors, L.L.C., the NJ Supreme Court held that in an eminent domain case involving a contaminated property, the condemnor may seek an order requiring estimated remediation costs to be set aside in escrow.  In New Jersey Transit Corporation v. Mary Franco, the Appellate Division the court held that the escrow for the estimated costs of environmental cleanup should be based on “the remediation necessary to achieve the highest and best use of the property used to calculate the amount of the condemnation award” as opposed to the use for which the property is condemned.