What happens when a property owner unknowingly pays the electricity bill on a city-owned parking lot for over 15 years? If you said nothing, then you get a gold star.
In Murphy v. City of Sierra Madre (pdf), a recent decision out of the Second Appellate District, the plaintiffs-appellants were the subsequent owners of a piece of property originally purchased from the City through a Disposition Development Agreement. When the City originally transferred the property, it also mistakenly transferred an adjacent electrical meter for a City-owned parking lot. As a result, from 1985 to 2010, plaintiffs paid for the City parking lot's electricity. Shortly after discovering this shocking situation (I'm sorry, I could not resist), plaintiffs filed suit alleging seven causes of action against the City, including one for inverse condemnation. The plaintiffs' inverse claim alleged that the City "appropriated their money for the benefit of the City and the citizens of the community." Thus, plaintiffs contended that the "private property" that was taken for public use was their money. The City demurrer to the entire complaint, and the lower court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend.
In an unpublished opinion, the Second Appellate District made short work of the plaintiffs-appellants' arguments, pointing out that according to plaintiffs' own allegations, the City did not take anything. Rather, the plaintiffs paid Edison, a third party. Thus, there was no "taking" by the City. The Court of Appeal also noted that plaintiffs were attempting to "extend the inverse condemnation doctrine far beyond its historical application," as they could not identify a single case "presenting even vaguely similar facts in which an inverse condemnation claim was upheld." Accordingly, the trial court's decision was affirmed.
Thus, after footing the bill for approximately 15 years, it now seems unlikely that plaintiffs will receive even as much as a thank you from the City.
Ben Rubin assists developers, public agencies, landowners and corporate clients on a variety of complex land use and environmental matters. He counsels clients on matters dealing with the Federal and State Endangered Species Act ...
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