The Continuing Effort to Define the Line Between Court and Jury Roles in Eminent Domain

by Nossaman LLP
Contact

Eminent domain attorneys struggle with a concept foreign to most civil litigators:  figuring out the roles of the judge and jury.  Even most non-attorneys know the basic rule of trial:  the jury is the "fact-finder."  But in eminent domain cases, things are a bit different. 

The jury still acts as fact-finder, but only in one arena:  the quest to determine the amount of just compensation to which the owner is entitled.  This narrow scope means that the judge ends up ruling on all issues of law, plus mixed issues of fact and law, plus pure issues of fact to the extent those issues don't go to the issue of "just compensation."  (See People v. Ricciardi (1943) 23 Cal.2d 390, 402.)

That all sounds simple enough, but it's not like there is some shining bright light that defines which factual determinations bear on "just compensation" and which ones speak to something else.  And this brings us to today's case:   City of Perris v. Stamper (August 9, 2013).  There, the key issues in dispute involved the impact of a supposed dedication requirement on the value of the part taken. 

The trial court concluded that the inquiries of (1) reasonable likelihood of the dedication requirement being imposed, and (2) the constitutionality of that dedication requirement both qualified as issues for the court.  The court ruled on those issues -- concluding that the city would have imposed the dedication requirement at issue and that it qualified as constitutional.  The ruling gutted the property owner's case, leading to a stipulated judgment at the city's appraised value, and an appeal. 

The Court of Appeal saw things differently, concluding that the issues involving the dedication requirement went directly to the determination of just compensation.  Thus, the Court held, those issues were for the jury, and the trial court erred, usurping the jury's function.  The Court reversed, and the case now heads back to the trial court. 

The opinion itself acts as a good reference tool on these issues, spanning nearly 50 pages and walking through most of California's key opinions on dedications.  It also takes me down memory lane a bit (and reminds us how long these cases can take).  The Stamper case was handled for the owner by Rick Friess, a former partner of mine at Nossaman.  I remember the case from when he was here -- and he left nearly 3 1/2 years ago.  And who knows when the case will finally end; after the decision, the remand leaves the parties getting ready to start preparing for a jury trial all over again. 

There was one other interesting issue in the Stamper case, involving the application of the "project impact" rule.  This is a rule that renders inadmissible changes in value attributable to the project itself.  In other words, if the project raises the value of the property being taken, the owner cannot get compensated at that higher value.  Conversely, if the project diminishes the value of the property, the agency cannot take advantage of that to pay the lower amount. 

In Stamper, the owner argued that the dedication requirement qualified as a project impact, meaning that the dedication could not be taken into account in determining just compensation.  The Court of Appeal disagreed, concluding that the dedication requirement existed "independent of any specific project." 

Finally, since I happen to have access to the prevailing attorney in the case, I thought I'd ask him how he feels about the Court's decision.  Here's what Rick has to say:

I give the Court high marks for really spending the time to understand these issues, as reflected in the Court’s nearly 50-page opinion and by the fact that the Court actually issued two tentative opinions and had two rounds of oral argument.  But I do think the Court simply got it wrong on the project-induced-impact issue.  The Rancho Penasquitos and Barratt American opinions are explicit that government land use decisions, including zoning, that are influenced by the project must be ignored.  Requiring an owner to dedicate property is just another government land use decision.

And here, the Court itself said: “certainly there would be no requirement of a dedication of property for Indian Avenue, if the Indian Avenue project did not exist . . ..” How can some types of government land use decisions be subject to the project-influence rule, but not others? The Court’s distinction that “[t]he requirement of dedicating private property for public purposes has long been accepted as a proper exercise of a governmental power” should not suffice because zoning and most other land use decisions are equally “long accepted as a proper exercise of a governmental power.”

(See, even when we win, we can still be dissatisfied with the outcome.  Rick, take a deep breath, enjoy the victory, and start getting ready for trial!)

For more on the decision, see our E-Alert, In Eminent Domain Proceedings, the Likelihood and Constitutionality of a Dedication is a Jury Determination.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Nossaman LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Nossaman LLP
Contact
more
less

Nossaman LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.