Caltrans’ Highway 101 Overpass Condemnation Case Ends in Split Decision

by Nossaman LLP
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For several years, we’ve been following an eminent domain lawsuit in Marin County involving Caltrans’ acquisition of 34 acres for a $29.7 million interchange project at the Redwood Sanitary Landfill, which would widen the overpass over Highway 101 and install new frontage roads on both sides of the highway to create safer conditions for traffic going in and out of the landfill.  After a 20-day trial, the litigation has finally ended with a jury verdict that appears to be close to a split between the property owner’s appraisal and Caltrans’ appraisal.

According to an article in the Marin Independent Journal, Marin jury awards rancher $3.2 million for land seized in Novato, Caltrans’ appraisal was $575,000, and the owner’s appraisal was $6 million.  The jury returned a verdict at $3.2 million, which equaled about $1.7 million for the part-taken, and $1.5 million in severance damages to the remaining property as a result of the project.

In arguing for severance damages, the property owner claimed that the project would disrupt roads, cattle crossings, pipelines and a quarry operation, and would impact the property’s potential use as a lucrative winery.  (This seems like a potentially inconsistent highest and best use argument, as a property owner arguably should not be able to recover severance damages based on impacts to the property’s current use AND its future highest and best use, although there could arguably be temporary impacts if the current condition is an interim use.  If you’d like more information about highest and best use issues, let me know and I’m happy to discuss in more detail.)

Prior to trial, Caltrans apparently offered $1.8 million as a “final offer”.  Because the jury verdict was significantly above Caltrans’ final offer, the owner may be entitled to litigation expenses, including reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and expert fees, if the owner’s final demand was reasonable.  The owner is filing a motion to recover such fees, so we will see what transpires.  If you’re interested in how courts determine the award of litigation expenses in eminent domain, feel free to read some of our prior posts on the subject.

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.

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