Posts in Court Decisions.
Posted in Court Decisions

In an eminent domain proceeding, tenants of property subject to condemnation have constitutional rights to just compensation. However, those rights can be assigned to the landlord through a lease agreement. A recent unpublished Court of Appeal decision confirmed that commercial tenants can assign all claims to just compensation through the terms of a lease agreement ...

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In a recent published decision, the California Court of Appeal had the opportunity to address this issue when the property owners of a beachside residence in the City of Los Angeles challenged a setback condition that the California Coastal Commission imposed on their proposed home remodel.  (See Greene v. Cal. Coastal Com. (Oct. 9, 2019) Case No. B293301.)


Background

Under the Coastal Act, property owners are required to obtain a Coastal Development Permit for “development” within the coastal zone.  “Development” is defined very broadly in the Coastal Act, and includes ...

It is commonplace for a local government agency to require a property or business owner to secure a license or permit for a particular type of operation (such as a liquor license, medical marijuana license, etc.).  If the property owner expends substantial funds developing the business or property in reliance on that license or permit, and a government regulation thereafter prohibits that use, does it trigger a taking entitling the property or business owner to just compensation?  According to a recent California district court decision, the answer is no.  In ...

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In California, we have an admittedly odd way of determining whether the property or business owner in an eminent domain case is entitled to recover attorneys’ fees.  (Note that I’m specifically talking about an owner’s ability to recover; California law does not provide for a condemning agency’s ability to recover fees).  It’s actually fairly simple:  just before trial, the owner and the agency exchange a Final Demand and a Final Offer.  (See Code of Civil Procedure section 1250.410.)   If the case thereafter proceeds to trial, a jury will typically decide the amount of ...

In Freeport Reg’l Water Auth. v. M&H Realty Partners VI, L.P., 2019 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 6126 (Sept. 16, 2019), the court walked through a complicated fact pattern involving – in its simplest form – a 40-foot easement for an underground water pipeline.  For our purposes, the key issues were valuing (1) the easement being acquired, (2) the severance damages caused to the remainder parcel, and (3) a temporary construction easement for the pipeline’s installation.  Though it was not technically a eminent domain case because the parties had reached an agreement concerning the ...

On August 15, 2019, the California Supreme Court issued its first inverse condemnation opinion in more than 22 years in the case City of Oroville v. Superior Court of Butte County, Case No. S243247.  The Court held that to succeed on an inverse condemnation claim, a property owner must show more than just a causal link between the existence of a public improvement and damage to private property:  it must demonstrate that “the property damage was the probable result or necessary effect of an inherent risk associated with the design, construction, or maintenance of the relevant ...

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Inverse condemnation litigation and liability has become a particularly hot topic in California over the last several years.  Not many attorneys specialize in this area, and there are a number of traps for the unwary lawyers, public agencies, and property owners involved in such litigation.  A recent Court of Appeal decision provides some important lessons for all parties involved, including the risks of settling inverse condemnation claims with insurance companies, and pitfalls in recovering attorneys' fees ...

In an eminent domain proceeding, the property owner and the condemning agency each typically introduce evidence of just compensation through valuation experts. The jury is then required to render a verdict in between the owner’s (high) valuation and the agency’s (low) valuation. Usually the biggest delta between the sides involves severance damages -- or damages to the remainder property not being acquired. But what happens when the agency’s appraiser does not render a specific valuation opinion, instead simply concluding that any damages are offset by project benefits? Is this sufficient, or is the appraiser required to identify specific dollar amounts for damages and benefits? A recent Court of Appeal decision concludes that the appraiser is not required to identify specific damages and benefits ...

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For more than three decades, most property owners have been relegated to state courts when pursuing a takings claim against a state or local agency.  In a 5-4 decision issued this week, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed itself and opened the door to the federal courthouse, allowing property owners to bypass the state courts and file a Fifth Amendment takings claim in federal court in the first instance.  Knick v. Township of Scott, 588 U.S. __ (June 21, 2019).  What this eventually means for property owners, and the federal courts, only time will tell.  However, one can reasonably assume that ...

On June 5, 2019, the California Supreme Court (Court) heard oral argument in the case City of Oroville v. Superior Court of Butte County, Case No. S243247 (Oroville Case). This case is notable because it is the first time that the Court is weighing in on a significant case concerning the doctrine of inverse condemnation since Bunch v. Coachella Valley Water District ...

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Like the vast majority of general civil litigation, eminent domain matters usually settle before going to trial.  The resolution is typically documented in either a stipulated judgment or a settlement agreement.  What is unique to eminent domain, however, is that the settlements oftentimes take place before the public project is fully constructed, meaning the parties are resolving their claims based on the "project as proposed," without seeing the actual finished product or fully understanding its impacts on the property.  In documenting a settlement, property owners can ...

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Many public agencies and utilities have easements for water or gas pipelines or electric transmission lines.  Those easements typically contain express rights to construct, operate, and maintain the facilities, including rights of access; but oftentimes the easements are silent on what rights are reserved to the private property owner, including whether the owner can place trees or other improvements within the easement area.  As utilities and public agencies are undertaking more thorough efforts to protect and maintain their rights-of-way, they are commonly seeking to remove ...

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More than 50 years ago, Caltrans purchased roughly 500 homes under threat of eminent domain within the planned right-of-way for the anticipated construction of the I-710 freeway (linking Monterey Park to Pasadena).  As we reported a number of years ago, Caltrans finally decided to sell those homes once it became clear the alignment would not be utilized.  We haven't heard much on how that sales process was going, but the Pasadena Star reported recently that it has been the subject of litigation, which has now reached an outcome.

In Steve Scauzillo's April San Gabriel Valley Tribune ...

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When a local government agency impermissibly spot zones a property, thereby depriving it of all economically beneficial uses, can the property owner seek to invalidate that zoning decision, or is the owner left with a claim for damages under the theory of a regulatory taking? In a recent published California district court decision ...

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A few months ago, we reported on a Court of Appeal decision, Bottini v. City of San Diego, where the Court held that delays resulting from a governmental agency's improper denial of a permit application for a new development did not result in a regulatory taking.  The case involved a local agency's improper application of CEQA to a proposed residential development, and the property owner successfully securing a decision by the court to overturn the City's requirement to comply with CEQA where there was a clear exemption.  The owner also sought damages due to a lengthy delay in ...

When the government physically takes or occupies property without first going through the rigorous procedural requirements under California eminent domain law, usually it's a clear-cut case of inverse condemnation liability.  But a recent California Court of Appeal case provides a unique exception involving property subject to dedication.

In Prout v. California Department of Transportation (Dec. 18, 2018, 2018 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 8523),  Caltrans sought to use a 1.3-acre strip of land to make improvements to Highway 12 in Calveras ...

In a recent unpublished Court of Appeal decision, Downs v. City of Redding (October 30, 2018), the Court took up two distinct issues: (a) whether a contractor’s use of property for construction staging constitutes a taking when such use is not authorized by the agency, and (b) whether "just compensation" requires payment of damages for the taking of a tree.  Both of these issues are common occurrences in many of the projects we work on and while the Court’s holdings may not come as a surprise, they are a good reminder of the fairness and equity courts apply to such issues ...

The California Coastal Act establishes another layer of regulation governing development in the Coastal Zone. Development under the Coastal Act is defined to encompass essentially everything and anything.  For example, under the Coastal Act development includes such things as a lot line adjustment, releasing fireworks on the 4th of July, or putting up a No Trespassing sign.  While there are certain limited exemptions, in most cases individuals undertaking any development in the Coastal Zone must obtain a Coastal Development Permit.  In certain instances, the local agency’s ...

When a governmental agency improperly denies a permit application for a new development, and the proposed development is thereby delayed, does this result in a regulatory taking?  As we've seen in some prior cases, such improper governmental actions can trigger liability, but it is uncommon.  A recent Court of Appeal decision, Bottini v. City of San Diego (Sept. 18, 2018), highlights just how difficult it is for a property owner to pursue a regulatory taking due to a delay caused by a city's improper denial of a development application.

Background

Bottini concerns the ...

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For those of you who have followed Nossaman’s eminent domain blog since the very early days, you’ll recall our coverage of a significant regulatory takings case, Monks v. City of Rancho Palos Verdes.  The 2008 California decision received much press coverage in that it was one of the very few instances where property owners overcame the myriad substantive and procedural obstacles and succeeded under a regulatory takings theory.  Now, ten years later, another group of property owners in Rancho Palos Verdes attempted to pursue a similar regulatory takings claim on the back of ...

One of the unique things about eminent domain cases is that a set of specific procedural rules govern the admissibility of valuation evidence at trial.  A new unpublished opinion from the Court of Appeal, San Bernardino County Transportation Authority v. Byun, explores some of the many things that can go wrong when a party ignores those procedural rules.

At the outset, I must admit to a personal stake in this one; this was a case I handled, and which I argued at the Court of Appeal on May 17 (that the decision came out so quickly after argument gives some sense of how the Court felt about the ...

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Many states have enacted eminent domain reform since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which broadly defined "public use" to include the government's acquiring property for another private owner to realize an economic benefit (such as increasing tax revenues).  However, as reported by the Institute for Justice in its 50 States Report Card, many of those reform efforts have been insignificant.  And, despite repeated efforts over the last 13 years, Congress has yet to pass legislation limiting the use of eminent domain for truly ...

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As we’ve seen all too many times in California, when local municipalities delay development approvals -- even improperly -- courts are reluctant to find liability under an inverse condemnation cause of action and award temporary damages. While there have been some successful cases (see Lockaway Storage v. County of Alameda (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 161), those results are the exception, not the rule.  A recent court of appeal opinion, Mahon v. County of San Mateo 2018 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1483, provides an example of the uphill battle a property owner faces in successfully ...

As any experienced California eminent domain lawyer knows, there is a unique statutory mechanism that allows parties to bring a legal issues motion to secure a court’s ruling on a litany of issues that impact compensation. This statutory right is set forth in Code of Civil Procedure section 1260.040 and reads as follows:

"(a)          If there is a dispute between plaintiff and defendant over an evidentiary or other legal issue affecting the determination of compensation, either party may move the court for a ruling on the issue.  The motion shall be made not later than 60 days before ...

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In the vast majority of cases, when a public agency exercises eminent domain, the only issue in dispute is the amount of just compensation the agency must pay for the property being acquired.  Even in situations where a property owner challenges the agency's right to take, it is typically for procedural reasons that can ultimately be corrected.  However, where a property owner successfully challenges the agency's right to take, the consequences can be significant, as the agency is required to pay the property owner's litigation expenses -- including attorneys' fees, expert fees, and ...

Two of the more complicated issues eminent domain attorneys face are analyzing whether government conduct rises to the level of a taking, and whether the government engaged in precondemnation conduct that gives rise to damages apart from paying just compensation.

Earlier this week, an unpublished California Court of Appeal decision, Dryden Oaks v. San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, grappled with both issues. (See update below.)

In Dryden Oaks, a developer purchased property near the Palomar Airport in Carlsbad.  The property was in an area governed by the San Diego ...

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It’s a Friday afternoon and I decided to take a quick look at the advance sheets for any newly decided appellate cases involving eminent domain. My search revealed an unpublished decision that came out yesterday (September 7, 2017) called Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency v. Souza, 2017 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 6117. I’ll provide the highlights below.

Facts:

This matter involved an acquisition by the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SACFA) of approximately 2.2 acres of land for the Natomas Levee Improvement Program. The acquisition was needed to widen the levee along ...

Under inverse condemnation law in California, a public agency is generally strictly liable for physical damage to private property caused by a public improvement.  This means a public agency can be held liable even if the public improvement was properly designed, constructed and maintained.  Rarely is there a question of whether a project constitutes a "public improvement," but in Mercury Casualty Co. v. City of Pasadena (Aug. 24, 2017), the Court of Appeal recently addressed this issue and held that a tree constitutes a work of public improvement for purposes of inverse ...

The City of Oroville (City) has petitioned the California Supreme Court for review of an unpublished Court of Appeal decision, City of Oroville v. Superior Court (2017) 2017 WL 2554447 (Third District), finding the City liable in inverse condemnation for sewage backup into private property even though the owners failed to install and maintain backwater valves on their private property as required by state and local legal authority.  While no published decisions have been issued on this subject, four unpublished decisions in different jurisdictions throughout California over the ...

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The Martins Beach access dispute in San Mateo County continues to make headlines.  As a quick refresher, billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla purchased 90 acres of beachfront property south of Half Moon Bay, and subsequently proceeded to lock the gated entry to Martins Beach, effectively preventing public access to the popular beach.  We've been covering the dispute for quite some time, including the recent introduction of legislation to potentially fund the State Lands Commission's use of eminent domain to acquire an easement for access to the popular beach.

While the ...

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Last week, the United States Supreme Court in Murr v. Wisconsin issued a key regulatory takings decision which creates a new multifactor balancing test to determine whether two adjacent properties with single ownership could be considered a larger parcel.  In a 5-3 decision, the Court found that the properties were a single parcel and because the owners were not deprived of all economically viable uses of their property they could not establish a compensable regulatory taking.

The Murr Family owned two lots adjacent to a river.  A cabin was built on one of the lots, while the other lot ...

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When public agencies analyze a potential public project, they often need to gain access to private property for surveys, testing, and to otherwise investigate whether a particular property is suitable for a planned project.  Often, agencies gain access by talking with the property’s owner and reaching agreement on a right of entry.  But where the owner refuses to allow access, the agency must resort to the courts.  For decades, agencies have followed a set of rules that allow them to obtain a court-ordered right of entry with minimal notice and without most of the formality of a ...

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Public agencies own significant amounts of property throughout California and the United States.  Sometimes, those properties are not being put to a public use, and the government acts as a landlord, leasing out property to private entities.  But when the government is ready to put the property to a public use, and it terminates the lease, is there a "taking" of private property triggering the need to pay just compensation?  A recent unpublished Court of Appeal decision, California Cartage Company v. City of Los Angeles, addressed this issue and held that the government's termination ...

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In California eminent domain proceedings, a property owner is entitled to the "fair market value" of the property being acquired.  Typically, fair market value is determined by analyzing comparable sales or by utilizing an income capitalization approach.  But every once in a while, there is no relevant market data, in which case the law permits determining compensation "by any method of valuation that is just and equitable."  (Code Civ. Proc., sec. 1263.320.)  A recent court of appeal decision, Central Valley Gas Storage v. Southam, explains when this "just and equitable" valuation ...

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As we've reported in the past, temporary takings are compensable in California.  But such claims are not easy to prove, particularly when you're dealing with the federal government imposing temporary regulations preventing use of property.  A recent case, Reoforce v. United States, demonstrates some of the hurdles an impacted property owner may face.

In Reoforce, the plaintiff discovered a mineral deposit called pumicite on federal land in Kern County, California.  Believing the deposit had potential value for paint and fiberglass applications, Reoforce submitted a mining ...

When a business is taken as a result of a public improvement, the business is entitled to seek compensation for, among other things, loss of business goodwill. Typically, this loss is calculated by measuring the business’ before-condition value and comparing to its after-condition value.  This traditional methodology was the cornerstone for business goodwill appraisers to determine just compensation.  Yet late last year, the California Court of Appeal issued a ruling in People ex rel. Dep't of Transp. v. Presidio Performing Arts Found. (2016) 5 Cal. App.5th 190 which may have ...

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When the California Supreme Court issued its ruling on Property Reserve v. Superior Court, handing a substantial victory to public agencies, we were given three key takeaways:  (1) the Right of Entry statutes (CCP §1245.010 et seq.) are constitutional, (2) the activities the Department of Water Resources sought to undertake are covered by the broad scope of these statues, and (3) if the language of a statute doesn’t match your planned opinion, you can always reform it to match the claimed legislative intent of the statute.

To that last point, the Court’s opinion included its ...

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Before an eminent domain action is filed, public infrastructure projects involve years of planning, environmental approvals, design, and property negotiations.  During this time, property owners and real estate agents/brokers are often faced with deciding what to disclose about the potential condemnation to prospective tenants when attempting to lease out space.  It is a difficult position to be in, as (i) disclosing too much makes it extraordinarily difficult to find a tenant willing to pay market rents with the looming "cloud" of condemnation, and (ii) disclosing too ...

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One of the hot issues in eminent domain these days involves the government's efforts to take over privately-run utility companies.  The argument typically is that the government -- which has no profit-making motive -- can run the utility at a lower cost, saving the ratepayers money.   Not surprisingly, the utility companies feel otherwise.

In California, one of the first cases to reach trial on this issue is about to wrap up.  The City of Claremont sought to condemn the Golden State Water Company's assets, and Golden State fought the City's right to take.

In a Court trial (i.e., a trial ...

Last year, my partner Ben Rubin reported on the California Supreme Court's decision in California Building Industry Association v. City of San Jose, which analyzed an inclusionary housing ordinance and held that such ordinances do not qualify as "exactions" and, consequently, are reviewed under a deferential standard that looked at whether the ordinance was "reasonably related" to the city’s interest in promoting the health, safety, and welfare of the community.

Last month, we saw the first published decision following last year's Supreme Court pronouncement ...

Last month, the California Supreme Court’s decision in Property Reserve v. Superior Court provided long-awaited certainty for public agencies after a court of appeal determined the often-used right of entry statutes failed to provide adequate Constitutional protection for pre-acquisition investigations and testing.  In summary, the Supreme Court held the right of entry process constitutional, with one reform:  the property owner is entitled to a jury trial on the amount of compensation.  For a full analysis, see our e-alert here.

The decision preserves a significant tool for ...

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Every year or so, a new appellate court decision comes out addressing the proper role of the judge versus the jury on some certain eminent domain issue. Most recently, a trial court, appellate court and the California Supreme Court all grappled with this question:  Does the judge determine whether a dedication requirement is constitutional, or does the jury?  Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued its decision in City of Perris v. Stamper, No. S213468 (Aug. 15, 2016) holding that it is the role of the judge to determine whether a dedication requirement is constitutional.  The ...

We don’t often see multiple takings-related cases in one week, but last week we saw three.  The California Supreme Court’s decision in Property Reserve was obviously the most important, but the Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal in San Diego also issued two decisions in the same week.  Although both of these opinions are unpublished and cannot be cited, they act as a reminder for property owners to be mindful of some basic principles of eminent domain law.

The first case, SANDAG v. Vanta, addresses some of the limits on the principle of just compensation and, in particular ...

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For the last two-plus years, we have been waiting for guidance from the California Supreme Court on whether public agencies could utilize the statutory right of entry procedure to gain access to private property to conduct investigations and testing. Such activities are routinely part of the environmental approval process for public works projects, and if agencies are forced to go through a regular condemnation proceeding, projects could be delayed for many months or even years.  Today, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Property Reserve v. Superior Court, holding the right ...

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Eminent domain fans!  Take heed: The City of Perris v. Stamper case (S213468) will finally be heard by the California Supreme Court tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. in San Francisco.  I recapped the issues that are going to be addressed in my prior post about the oral arguments.

Remember - the California Supreme Court now broadcasts its oral arguments live on the web!  Go to the CA Supreme Court's website (http://www.courts.ca.gov/supremecourt.htm) and there will be a blue box on the right that will launch the web viewer!  I hope you tune in!

 

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Today, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Property Reserve v. Superior Court case.  Today was also the day the Court began showing live webcasts of oral arguments online, so I was able to not only hear the arguments but see the Justices and attorneys in action.  If the Court provides a link to the oral arguments, I will include that in another post.

My initial reaction from the oral arguments - all of the Justices were very engaged in the arguments and the Court hammered both sides pretty soundly.  If I had to pick a winner, I think they went easier on the State.

The Court did ...

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If you are an eminent domain junkie like us, then you will appreciate knowing that the City of Perris v. Stamper case (S213468) will be heard by the California Supreme Court on May 5, 2016, at 9:00 a.m. in San Francisco. As a quick refresher, this is yet another case where the Court is trying to delineate the role of the judge versus the jury in eminent domain cases. The case considers the constitutionality of a dedication requirement imposed by the City of Perris.  The Court will be addressing two questions:

  1. Is the constitutionality of an otherwise reasonably probable dedication ...
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One of the most valuable assets many homeowners enjoy is their property’s view. If the government undertakes an activity that eliminates or obstructs that view, is an owner entitled to relief?  In Boxer v. City of Beverly Hills (April 26, 2016, B258459), the California Court of Appeal held that in an eminent domain action (where there is a direct taking of property), view impacts are compensable, but in the absence of a taking of property, a property owner is not entitled to compensation for loss of view.

Background

In Boxer v. City of Beverly Hills, a group of property owners filed an ...

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The California Supreme Court announced today that the Property Reserve case will be heard on May 3, 2016, at 9:00 a.m. in San Francisco.  (I'm assuming this is not an April Fool's joke, since eminent domain attorneys have been awaiting this for a long time now.)

The Court will decide whether California's precondemnation right of entry statutes are constitutional.  As has been discussed at length for more than a year in our industry, the decision could effect sweeping changes in how condemning agencies access properties for necessary inspections and testing.  We posted a detailed ...

Eminent domain practitioners are well versed in analyzing a property's highest and best use.  Under these principles, a property being condemned is not necessarily valued based on its current, existing use.  Where the appraiser can show that the property's actual value is based on a different use, that use can often be the foundation for the valuation (assuming that other use meets the four-part test of highest and best use, which is beyond the scope of this post; if you're really bored today, here's a link to Wikipedia's discussion of highest and best use).

In County of Santa Barbara v ...

California Eminent Domain Report is a one-stop resource for everything new and noteworthy in eminent domain in California. We cover all aspects of eminent domain in California, 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 California eminent domain conferences and seminars.

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