Sometimes "Friendly" Eminent Domain Actions Become Not So Friendly
Posted in Court Decisions

There's an odd story unfolding in Mendocino County's Brooktrails Township.  It dates back to when Lake Emily was originally built in 1972, where its development apparently resulted in the partial taking of a number of properties.  But the township never paid for the acquisitions.  It is unclear how or why the owners let this slide.  (My first thought was perhaps no one noticed; but the takings were rather large -- one owner alone lost 1,300 square feet of property.)

Fast forward to more than thirty years later.  In 2006, the township decided to raise Lake Emily several feet, which would further inundate the previously impacted properties.  This time around, the township decided to pay the owners for the newly inundated portion, and also to pay the current fair market value for the past "take."  Seems like a pretty nice act on the part of the township given: (1) it agreed to pay current values for the past take, as opposed to the property's value in 1972 when the original take occurred, and (2) the owner's past claims were likely barred by the statute of limitations.  So how did this play out?

According to a Willits News article, Roseman case in a nutshell, the township negotiated and reached agreements with all the property owners.  As it should, given its generous offer to pay for the past take.  The township apparently filed "friendly" eminent actions and deposited the agreed-upon funds with the State.  So far, so good.  But things took a turn for the worse.  In 2008, one of the owners, the Rosemans, noticed the township's employees were chopping down trees outside the acquisition area.

The "friendly" eminent domain action became not so friendly.  The condemnation action became heated, and the Rosemans' previously agreed upon $27,700 compensation was off the table.  The case was tried before a jury this year, and the jury found the Rosemans were entitled to $115,000 as just compensation for the taking, plus an additional $150,000 as mitigation/cost to cure damages resulting from the needed installation of a retaining wall around the Rosemans' residence.  The township also was hit with paying the Rosemans' attorneys' fees and expert witness costs (which apparently exceed $200,000).  

In all, the township may be on the hook for nearly half-a-million-dollars -- just a wee bit higher than the originally agreed upon $27,700.  The township may appeal, but this serves as an important reminder of what can happen when public agencies exceed the scope of their take.  Eminent domain is already a contentious issue, and when an agency oversteps its bounds, bad things can happen.

Eminent Domain Report is a one-stop resource for everything new and noteworthy in eminent domain. We cover all aspects of eminent domain, including condemnation, inverse condemnation and regulatory takings. We also keep track of current cases, project announcements, budget issues, legislative reform efforts and report on all major eminent domain conferences and seminars in the United States.

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