Byline: Scott Baughman
Last week Lawyers Weekly published the biggest plaintiffs' verdicts and settlements of 2018. This week we present the biggest eminent domain verdicts and settlements of 2018, along with our selections for the top defense verdicts of the year.
In a typical eminent domain case, where the government exercises its right to seize privately owned land for a public purpose, the landowner is technically the defendantalthough several eminent domain attorneys have pointed out to us that their work is in practice much more akin to representing plaintiffs. After taking a tract of land, the government deposits the amount that its appraisers think the government owes, and then owners typically have to sue to get anything close to fair compensation.
That job has gotten tougher for attorneys in recent years. In 2011, the state legislature instructed the state's Department of Transportation, by far the most active user of eminent domain powers, to begin outsourcing more of its work, including land appraisals. As such, deposits have gotten smaller, and in many cases landowners are securing verdicts or settlements several times larger than the DOT's initial deposit.
Lawyers Weekly calculates our top eminent domain verdicts and settlements by subtracting the amount of the deposit from the client's ultimate recovery. As a result, the rankings you see here may not always correspond to the size of the numbers cited in the headlines.
When it comes to defense verdicts, compiling our annual list requires significantly more editorial discretion. A lawsuit with a high demand but a weak legal claim may not present nearly as much risk for the client as one brought by a serious plaintiff with real resources, whatever the nominal demand. As such, we don't rank defense verdicts in our reviewthe verdicts we've selected for inclusion are presented in no particular order.
Candidly, not many defense verdicts are reported to Lawyers Weekly. We certainly understand and sympathize with the many obvious reasons for that, but to the extent that clients authorize it, we strongly encourage attorneys to report their defense verdicts to us. Defending clients is an aspect of the legal profession every bit as important as representing plaintiffs, and it is our strong desire to recognize those attorneys' work as well.
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Top Eminent Domain Verdicts & Settlements of 2018
Landowners win $2.6M verdict in eminent domain case
A Brunswick County jury has awarded $2.6 million to a pair of landowners whose property was taken by the North Carolina Department of Transportation for the construction of Interstate 140.
The award is almost 20 times the amount that the DOT originally offered, said Brian McMillan of Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard in Greensboro, who represented the landowners along with Robert King and Kimberly Marston.
In December 2013, the DOT condemned 10.9 acres and severed a separate 5.84-acre tract from the main body of the property. It deposited a combined total of $130,728 as its estimate of what the land's owners were entitled to in fair compensation.
Superior Court Jack Hooks Jr. granted the landowners' request to combine the tracts and consolidate the two cases for trial after a hearing during which Hooks visited the site. Hooks ruled that under North Carolina's "unity rule," the two tracts were united physically in use and ownership and should be treated as one for the purpose of determining proper compensation, McMillan said.
The jury reached its verdict on compensation Oct. 17, 2018 after a five-day trial. Deliberations lasted an hour and 45 minutes.
"They had two questions to answerwhat was the land worth before the DOT project, and what was the remainder worth after the project," McMillan said. "Based on the jury's verdict, we were able to carry the burden of persuasion on both issues. I think that the weight and credibility of our experts' testimony on those two issues and our closing statements persuaded the jury to answer those questions in our client's favor."
Under state law, the landowners are entitled to interest on the amount of the award in excess of the deposits, back to the date when the property was taken. That interest is expected to add an amount in the high six figures to the final award, McMillan said.
VERDICT REPORT EMINENT DOMAIN
Injuries alleged: Taking of 10.9 acres and damage to 5.84-acre remainder
Case name: Department of Transportation v. CP Brunswick LLC; Department of Transportation v. 74 Holdings LLC
Court: Brunswick County Superior Court
Case Nos.: 13 CVS 2276 and 13 CVS 2277
Judge: Jack Hooks Jr.
Date of verdict: Oct. 17, 2018
Demand: $3.2 million
Attorney for plaintiff: Martin McCracken of the N.C. Dept. of Justice in Raleigh
Attorneys for defendant: Brian McMillan, Robert King, and Kimberly Marston of Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard in Greensboro
State pays storage facility $3.29M for land-taking
The North Carolina Department of Transportation Turnpike Authority has settled with a self-storage facility in Matthews for $3.29 million over a disagreement over the value of a piece of property that was taken to build a new highway, a lawyer for the facility reports.
Stephanie Autry of Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog in Raleigh reports that her client, a company called Interchange X that...