I tried a case in Bucks County, PA involving a condemnation by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.  PennDOT claim the property was worth $850,000. We presented evidence that the property was worth $2,300,000.  The Jury returned a verdict of $2,300,000 – the full amount we alleged.

Unfortunately, the Turnpike chose to appeal the verdict to the Commonwealth Court. The Court affirmed that verdict. The RDA filed a petition asking the PA Supreme Court to hear it’s appealed. The Court denied that petition.

So, the matter is now formally over and our judgment is final.

Rep. Chris Quinn (R-Delaware) recently introduced a bill in the PA House that would require the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General to create a brief document to clearly outline the rights and responsibilities property owners have during any land acquisition negotiations where eminent domain is being used.  House Bill 2609, titled Landowner Bill of Rights, is aimed at allowing property owners to better understand their rights during eminent domain negotiations.  Some condemning agencies, such as state departments of transportation (including PennDOT), already have such documents.

I tried a case in York County, PA involving a condemnation of the former York County Prison 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 appeal the verdict to the Commonwealth Court. The Court affirmed that verdict. The RDA filed a petition asking the PA Supreme Court to hear it’s appealed. The Court denied that petition.

So, the matter is now formally over and our judgment is final.

The United States House of Representatives passed the Private Property Rights Protection Act by voice vote. It seeks to prohibit condemnations for economic development or over property that is used for economic development within seven years after that taking. It applies to state and local takings if that governmental entity receives federal economic development funds. It would also prohibit the federal government from exercising its power of eminent domain for economic development.

Many states have similar statutes. They were enacted in reaction to the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision.

The bill has been referred to the Senate for potential action.

The PA Commonwealth Court recently held that a claim of adverse possession could be brought against a municipality when the municipality’s only use of the property during the statutory period was to hold the property for possible future sale. In City of Philadelphia v. Galdo, the City of Philadelphia obtained title to a property by condemnation in 1974. The City has not physically occupied or provided any maintenance of the Property since the late 1970s. The City filed a complaint against Galdo – the current owner of the property – for continuing trespass, permanent trespass, and ejectment, and Galdo filed a counterclaim to quiet title, claiming ownership by adverse possession.

The trial court found in favor of the City and ordered Galdo ejected from the disputed property. The trial court further determined that Galdo could not sustain a claim for adverse possession against the City because the Property was devoted to public use.

The Commonwealth Court, in a 2-1 decision, reversed the trial court finding that Galdo could bring a claim for adverse possession. The Court explained:

The City does not provide any analogous obligation imposed by law or evidence of any public use of the Property to justify holding and neglecting it for decades. Furthermore, were we to determine that a municipality that condemns and holds previously private property for possible future sale did so for a public use, we would essentially hold that municipalities could institute a taking of private property for a land bank, keeping the property until the market provides a considerable profit upon its sale. Such a holding would be detrimental to private property rights. The City is not, therefore, immune from Galdo’s counterclaim for adverse possession because it did not hold the Property pursuant to a legal obligation, or for public use.

 

The US Supreme Court issued its Kelo eminent domain case in 2005. That case held that it is not necessarily unconstitutional to take private property for another private entity to use. Now the subject of that case is the subject of a new movie. In Little Pink House, the movie centers on Suzette Kelo – the first named plaintiff in the case and describes her fight to save her house from eminent domain. David Crosby also added music to the movie.

The North Carolina Supreme Court has held that real estate brokers may legally testify regarding the fair market value of real property in condemnation cases. In NCDOT v. Mission Battleground Leasco, LLC, the condemnee attempted to offer the testimony of a licensed real estate broker as to the property’s fair market value . The NCDOT argued against allowing the broker’s testimony based upon state law that says licensed real estate brokers are only allowed to provide opinions of the “probable selling or leasing price” of real property. NCDOT argued that a state-certified appraiser is the only party legally allowed to estimate the fair market value of real property.

The trial court agreed with the NCDOT and excluded the broker’s testimony. The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the trial court’s decision. On appeal, the NC Supreme Court stated that the authority allowing experts to testify is found in the state’s Rules of Evidence, and not in a statute such as the one that allows licensed real estate brokers to offer broker price opinions and comparative market analyses. The court also stated, “Any person who can qualify as an expert under that standard . . . , can testify without having to invoke any other source of authority. Meeting that standard is both necessary and sufficient.”

I tried a case in York County, PA 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 appeal the verdict to the Commonwealth Court. The Court affirmed that verdict. 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.

A New Jersey appellate Court on Monday upheld a $4.4 million valuation of a parking lot condemned by the city of Hoboken. In Ponte Equities Inc. et al. v. City of Hoboken, the property owners sought additional damages claiming that the city lowered the market value of the 1-acre lot before taking it for a park. They argued that the valuation date should have been earlier due to these alleged actions. The court rejected the argument and held that there was insufficient evidence that the city “directly, unequivocally and immediately stimulate[d] an upward or downward fluctuation in value and which is directly attributable to a future condemnation,” the opinion stated.

 

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to hear the appeal of the owner of a Florida Keys island who alleged that increasingly restrictive development regulations have harmed his property rights. The property owner argued that the zoning of the 9-acre Bamboo Key as a bird rookery constituted a taking. Florida’s lower court ruled that the city of Marathon’s payment of rate of growth ordinance points, which can be used toward the purchase of one of a limited number of development permits, was just compensation for the property. The property owner argued that the compensation received was a nonmonetary credit that was virtually useless.