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July 14th, 2016 — By — In Articles

North Carolina Supreme Court Holds Map Act Unconstitutional

In an important victory for property owners, the North Carolina Supreme Court recently held that key provisions of the state’s Map Act are unconstitutional. As a result of the Court’s ruling June 10, 2016, affected property owners will be entitled to just compensation for the state’s regulatory taking of their properties. Additionally, landowners throughout the state may seek just compensation in the event that the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) prevents them from improving their land in order to reserve property for future roadway development projects.

Read our prior coverage here of Kirby v. North Carolina Department of Transportation, No. 56PA14-2 (N.C. June 10, 2016) (opinion).  Additional commentary from OCA Hawaii Member, Robert Thomas, is available here.

State Authorities Cannot Indefinitely Restrain Use of Private Property Without Payment of Just Compensation

Signed into law in 1987, North Carolina’s Roadway Corridor Official Map Act (referred to as the “Map Act”) authorized the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to designate protected “corridors” in which it reserved the right to build roadways in the future. For property owners’ whose property fell within these corridors, this meant that the NCDOT could prevent them from developing, building upon, or subdividing their property. In the words of the North Carolina Supreme Court, this had the effect of “allow[ing] the state to hinder property rights indefinitely for a project that may never be built.” Slip. op. at 13.

After the NCDOT exercised its powers under the Map Act for purposes of planning the Eastern and Western Loops of the Northern Beltway in Winston-Salem (without compensating the affected property owners), the property owners filed suit alleging violations of their constitutional rights. The trial court sided with the DOT; however, the appellate court ruled that the property owners were entitled to just compensation. The NCDOT then asked the North Carolina Supreme Court to weigh in, and the state’s highest court confirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals.

The Case Will Be Remanded for Calculation of Just Compensation

While the NCDOT argued that its use of the Map Act was a lawful exercise of the state’s police power and not a regulatory taking,  the North Carolina Supreme Court disagreed.  Affirming the decision of the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court found that the Map Act amounted to an improper “cost-cutting mechanism” that restricted affected property owners’ constitutional rights. “The Map Act’s indefinite restraint on fundamental property rights is squarely outside the scope of the police power.” Slip op. at 13. In other words, while the NCDOT could restrict the landowners’ use of their property, it could not do so without payment of just compensation.

The court held that “[t]he language of the Map Act plainly points to future condemnation of land in the development of corridor highway projects, thus requiring NCDOT to invoke eminent domain.” Slip op. at 12. Therefore, “[b]y recording the corridor maps at issue here, which restricted plaintiffs’ rights to improve, develop, and subdivide their property for an indefinite period of time, NCDOT effectuated a taking of fundamental property rights.” Slip op. at 15.Accordingly, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court for calculation of the value lost as a result of the NCDOT’s inverse condemnation, taking into consideration:

  • The value of the property owners’ lands prior to recording of the protected corridor map;
  • The restrictions on the property owners’ fundamental rights; and,
  • Any effect of the reduced ad valorem taxes resulting from the unconstitutional taking.

Owners’ Counsel of America | Leading Eminent Domain Attorneys Nationwide

If the government is seeking to condemn your property or restrict the use of your land without just compensation, a local eminent domain lawyer with Owners’ Counsel of America may be able to help you protect your constitutional rights. To speak with an eminent domain lawyer in your state, search our national directory or call (877) 367-6963 today.

Kirby v. North Carolina Dep’t of Trans., No. 56PA14-2 (N.C. June 10, 2016) by robert_thomas_5 on Scribd