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 ...
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 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 ...
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).
Eminent domain litigation can be expensive. Acquiring small strips of property often costs more in legal and appraisal costs than the value of the property itself. Sometimes public agencies have no choice but to condemn these minor acquisitions, as property owners cannot be found, will not negotiate, or otherwise take unreasonable positions. But when property owners are willing to reasonably negotiate, public agencies need to think hard about these cost savings and weigh them against setting a precedent for other acquisitions.
For example, if it will cost an agency $20,000 in ...
Property owners are routinely hiring attorneys well in advance of a public agency's filing of an eminent domain action. Many times, the representation begins before it is even certain whether the agency will actually move forward with acquiring the property. And sometimes, claims for inverse condemnation may ripen during the public agency's construction of the project on other nearby properties. When this overlap exists between inverse condemnation and potential future eminent domain actions, owners should be careful to assess how the attorney will be compensated. A recent ...
Given the maze of procedural and substantive hurdles involved, property owners rarely succeed with regulatory takings claims. Even when owners do win, it is yet more uncommon for courts to award damages, instead allowing the public agency to repeal the regulation. But securing a victory on liability and a damages award for a temporary regulatory taking, well, that is nearly uncharted territory (going into the realm of unicorns, the Loch Ness Monster, and other mythical creatures); we've heard stories of such events, but it is rare to find reliable documentation.
That all changed ...
While most lawsuits typically start with the filing of a complaint, eminent domain cases really start one key step earlier, with the condemning agency’s adoption of a Resolution of Necessity. The Resolution establishes (i) the agency’s right to take the property and (ii) the scope of the acquisition. In order to adopt a Resolution, the agency must make a set of findings, including finding that [t]he proposed Project is planned and located in the manner that will be most compatible with the greatest public good and the least private injury. In Council of San Benito County ...
A few weeks ago, the California Court of Appeal issued an interesting unpublished decision detailing a long, drawn-out eminent domain battle in Riverside County. I haven't blogged about it yet because, well to be honest, it feels like such a crazy story I couldn't figure out where to start or what to cover. But here we go.
The case, Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District v. O'Doherty, starts off rather dull. In order to serve a residential development, the Water District planned to construct a pump station in a public right of way. Because it was believed the planned ...
It's common practice for government agencies and property owners to reach an agreement on the acquisition of property without the use of eminent domain. Agencies understand the negative connotation of condemnation, along with the litigation costs involved, and right-of-way agents typically make strong efforts to negotiate a voluntary purchase. Acquisitions are usually resolved by the parties' entering into a standard right of way contract or purchase agreement. But once the eminent domain action is filed, attorneys like to resolve the case through the entry of judgment -- as ...
Shortly before an eminent domain trial, a government agency and a property owner exchange a statutory final offer and final demand. The statute’s sole purpose is to encourage settlement before trial, providing a carrot (to the property owner) and a stick (to the condemning agency).
If the matter fails to settle before trial, the owner can seek an award of litigation expenses (i.e., attorneys’ fees and expert costs) if the court ultimately determines that, in light of the outcome, the agency’s final offer was unreasonable and the owner’s final demand was reasonable. (See ...
Yesterday, we wrote about the Avenida San Juan Partnership v. City of San Clemente decision. For more information on the decision, see the following:
- Man Bites Dog! California Property Owner Wins Regulatory Taking Case in the California Court of Appeal, a blog post by Gideon Kanner on Gideon's Trumpet;
- Either Reverse Your Unconstitutional Spot Zoning, Or Pay. Your Choice, by Robert Thomas on his inversecondemnation.com blog; and
- Eminent Domain: Winning Owner In Inverse Condemnation Battle Cannot Recoup Fees By Attorney Owner Or Reap A Fee Multiplier Request, a piece in ...
I read a really interesting blog post by Robert Thomas, 10th Cir: Landowner Not "Prevailing Party" Even Though They "Won $3.8 Million -- Much More Than The Government Ever Offered Them". It describes a recent 10th Circuit decision that denied the property owner an attorneys' fees award where (1) the property was valued at trial at $3.8 million and (2) the government's offer was a mere $186,500. What caught my attention was the mechanism by which the federal courts award fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), as compared to the fee-shifting rules in California.
Under the EAJA ...
We've reported on a number of rent control regulatory takings claims making their way through the court system, most notably the Guggenheim v. City of Goleta case. Apparently, some cities and counties are fed up with the onslaught of challenges to their rent control ordinances, and they're looking for a way to recoup the attorneys' fees they expend in preserving the ordinances.
According to an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, "Monning researching bill to address rent control lawsuits," Assemblyman Bill Monning looks to address this concern by considering a bill ...
In California eminent domain cases (this is an area in which the law varies dramatically from state to state), the property / business owner is entitled to an award of litigation expenses (including attorneys' fees) if (1) it makes a reasonable final demand for compensation and (2) the agency makes an unreasonable final offer of compensation. (See Code Civ. Proc. § 1250.410.)
How one analyzes "reasonableness" once the jury issues its verdict has been the subject of a number of court opinions. Tracy Joint Unified School Distract v. Pombo (Oct. 29, 2010) adds to that body of law.
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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