Jury Sides With Property Owner in Solano County Eminent Domain Trial

by Nossaman LLP
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According to an article in the Daily Republic, Jury: County owes $1.24M in eminent domain dispute, Solano County and a local land owner recently completed an eminent domain trial, and the jury sided with the owner.  The case, Solano County v. Valine, involved the County's partial acquisition of about 10 acres through the middle of the owner's 82-acre farmland in order to develop the Suisun Valley Parkway.  

Our esteemed colleague, professor Gideon Kanner, reports that the government agency initially offered $575,000 for the partial acquisition.  After no agreement could be reached, the agency commenced a condemnation action. As is typical, shortly before trial the parties exchanged appraisal reports.  This time, the agency offered two appraisals, one at $450,000, and one at $350,000.  The owner's appraised value was over $1.5 million.  

While some may wonder why the agency's appraisal at the time of the expert exchange was significantly less than its initial appraisal and offer, this is actually becoming more and more common, especially over the last few years in a declining real estate market.  The reason is usually due to the parties' using a date of value for the eminent domain action that is months (and sometimes over a year) after the completion of the initial appraisal, so as the market continued to dive, so did the impacted property's value.  Also, agencies rarely use the same appraiser for trial that they use for the initial appraisal/offer, so with a new appraiser typically comes a difference in opinion.  

After the expert exchange, the agency and the owner exchanged a final offer and a final demand.  (See Code of Civil Procedure section 1250.410.)  The County's final offer was $750,000, and the owner's final demand was $877,000. The parties still could not bridge the gap, and trial commenced.  The jury returned a verdict of $1.25 million -- over twice the agency's deposit (and over three times the value put forth by the agency at trial).  Given that the property owner recovered a significant amount above its final offer, it is likely the owner will be entitled to recover its attorneys' fees and expert fees.  (See our article on the good faith test for determining the award of litigation expenses.)

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