Much of eminent domain litigation focuses on disputes over property valuation. Generally, these disputes are resolved by the parties submitting expert testimony regarding valuation, followed by a jury deciding what constitutes “just compensation” for property taken and, if necessary, any residual damage to the private property not needed for the public project.
Recently, however, the 11th District Court of Appeals published an opinion in a case where a private property owner took a different approach to challenging valuation.
In Lawnfield Properties v. City of Mentor, the City of Mentor needed to “take” a portion of land owned by Lawnfield Properties for a road widening project. The City secured an appraisal of Lawnfield’s land and provided it to Lawnfield along with a “good faith offer” to acquire Lawnfield’s land. Lawnfield rejected the City’s offer, taking the position that the City’s offer failed to compensate them for residual damage to their property. Specifically, Lawnfield argued that the City’s offer failed to compensate them for the relocation of a sign, the loss of parking spaces in a parking lot, the loss of a curb cut, and a temporary loss of the outdoor patio and swimming pool.
After Lawnfield rejected the City’s offer, the City filed a lawsuit in Lake County Probate Court to appropriate the property. Lawnfield responded by filing a lawsuit in Lake County Common Pleas Court. Lawnfield wanted the court to issue an injunction prohibiting the City from litigating the appropriation case until the City obtained an amended appraisal that accounted for the residual damage to Lawnfield’s property. Lawnfield also sued the City under a theory that it was acting in bad faith by failing to provide a good faith offer that accounted for the residual damage to the property.
The City asked the Common Pleas Court to dismiss Lawnfield’s case. The City argued that Lawnfield’s injunction action was merely a challenge to the city’s valuation method, not grounds for a separate injunction action. With respect to the bad faith action, the City argued that its appraiser determined that there was no damage to the residue of Lawnfield’s property, and as such, the City could not have acted in bad faith.
The trial court granted the City’s motion to dismiss. Lawnfield appealed the case to the Court of Appeals. Then, the 11th District affirmed the trial court’s decision, finding that probate courts have jurisdiction over challenges to the methodology used in determining the amount of compensation payable to a private property owner in an eminent domain action.
Lawnfield is significant because it makes clear that, although there are procedural and substantive defenses available in eminent domain actions, a challenge to an appropriating authority’s valuation methodology ultimately must be decided by a jury in the probate court.
Walter | Haverfield represents both appropriating agencies and private property owners in eminent domain litigation. If you need assistance with appropriating private property for a public project, or if your private property is being taken for a public project, the attorneys in Walter | Haverfield’s public law group are available to offer assistance.