Members of the Arkansas congressional delegation introduced legislation that could prevent construction of a new power line that would go from Oklahoma to Tennessee. If approved, federal officials would need permission from state officials before they could approve the use of eminent domain to build an electric power transmission facility within the state. In addition, the project would have to be constructed, “to the maximum extent practicable,” on federal property. Arkansas Congressman introduced the same legislation in 2015, but it died after passing in the House Natural Resources Committee.
The N.C. House voted 104-9 to approve a ballot question for a constitutional amendment limiting the power of eminent domain. The amendment would ban eminent domain in cases where government seizes property only to sell it to a private developer, by requiring that all property seized be for “public use.” Those uses could include utility infrastructure, roads and government facilities. The US and many state constitutions have similar requirements. The amendment would also give property owners who sue over eminent domain an opportunity to have a jury – instead of a judge – determine how much money they’re owed for the property.
The bill is another attempt in N.C. to address the US Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo decision. The bill’s sponsor stated, “The Supreme Court said that the states were free to restrict eminent domain more than that, and that’s precisely what we’re doing here.”
The bill now heads to the Senate, and if it passes, the November 2018 election ballot will contain a ballot question seeking the approval of the amendment. An identical bill has already been filed in the Senate and 16 GOP senators have signed on as co-sponsors.
The California legislature is considering a bill that could increase the likelihood condemnees will be reimbursed its litigation expenses. Under the current law, a condemnee can recover litigation expenses, such as attorneys’ and experts’ fees, if a court finds that the condemning agency’s final offer of compensation was unreasonable and that the final demand of the condemnee was reasonable when considering the compensation ultimately awarded. AB 408 provides that if the condemnor’s offer is lower than 90 percent of the compensation awarded, the court must award litigation expenses. That bill is still in committee.
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.