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January 25th, 2016 — By — In Articles

Georgia Court Rules Property Owners Are Entitled to Compensation and Attorneys’ Fees for Abandoned Condemnation Efforts

As we have previously discussed, while the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires payment of just compensation when the government exercises its power of eminent domain, several states have laws in place that provide property owners with additional financial remedies under certain circumstances. One such remedy that exists in many states is the ability to recover attorneys’ fees—typically when the government does something (such as making an unreasonably low compensation offer) that interferes with the property owners’ rights.

As highlighted by a recent Georgia case (brought to our attention by OCA Hawaii Member Robert Thomas in this post), another situation where state law may allow for recovery of attorneys’ fees is when the government abandons its efforts to condemn a person’s or business’ property. While Georgia’s statute regarding attorneys’ fees is relatively clear, this case in particular is notable because the Georgia Court of Appeals explicitly rejected the city’s argument that payment of attorneys’ fees plus compensation for the temporary taking of the property prior to abandonment would amount to a “double recovery.”

Right to Attorneys’ Fees for Abandoned Condemnation

Georgia is among several states that have laws providing for payment of landowners’ legal fees when the government abandons its efforts to condemn their property. Section 22-1-12 of the Georgia Code states:

In all actions where a condemning authority exercises the power of eminent domain, the court having jurisdiction . . . shall award the owner . . . his or her reasonable costs and expenses, including reasonable attorney, appraisal, and engineering fees, actually incurred because of the condemnation proceedings, if . . . [t]he proceeding is abandoned by the condemning authority.

In the case in question, the City of Canton initiated quick-take proceedings to condemn a parcel of land. It deposited roughly $800,000 with the trial court, which it had calculated as just compensation for the condemnation. The trial court promptly declared the city the title-owner of the property and granted it possession of the land.

The landowner subsequently challenged both the amount of compensation and the taking as a whole. Approximately 15 months later, with the parties still in litigation, the city abandoned its efforts to secure the property. The landowner sought to recover its attorneys’ fees and costs pursuant to Section 22-1-12, and the city actually agreed that it was liable for these amounts under the law.

Right to Compensation for Temporary Taking Prior to Abandonment

Where the city disagreed, however, was on the landowner’s action for just compensation under the Fifth Amendment. The city argued that the recovery of fees and costs should be the landowner’s sole remedy for the abandoned condemnation.

However, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that the landowner was entitled to both (i) attorneys’ fees and costs, and (ii) just compensation for the temporary taking. This decision was based in large part on the fact that the trial court had granted the city title in the original proceeding.

Are You Facing Condemnation? Contact Owners’ Counsel of America

While not all courts will award compensation for a temporary taking such as in the case discussed above, it is important for property owners facing condemnation proceedings to understand and protect their rights. If you are facing condemnation in Georgia or any other state nationwide, contact Owners’ Counsel of America to speak with a local eminent domain lawyer today.