December 19th, 2014 — By — In News & Events
OCA’s Amicus Brief Asks: Can the Most Important Evidence in an Eminent Domain Trial be Withheld From a Jury?
This week we filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Virginia Beach homeowners, James and Janet Ramsey, in Ramsey v. Commissioner of Highways, Record No. 140929 (review granted November 3, 2014), a case we previously discussed here.
In this eminent domain case, the Virginia Department of Transportation presented testimony at trial that was much lower than the DOT’s initial offer and pre-offer statements of value. The trial court refused to admit any testimony related to the earlier higher statements of value. As a result, the jury did not hear the original value the DOT offered for the property.
OCA’s brief questions whether the jury can be kept in the dark about the most important evidence in an eminent domain trial – the value of the private property taken. The brief focuses upon two arguments. First, the duty of the government in an eminent domain action must be to seek justice and develop a full and fair record upon which a jury may consider the just compensation to be awarded to a property owner whose land has been involuntarily taken for public use. Second, the statement of just compensation required by Va. Code § 25.1-204(E)(1) is a legislatively-mandated statement requiring factual documentation as to the government’s financial liability to a landowner in an eminent domain proceeding which the jury must be allowed to consider, not an inadmissible offer to compromise.
“In this case, the trial court erred by concluding that the Commissioner’s statutorily-required statement of just compensation was merely an offer to settle the dispute over purchase price rather than the required good faith statement and appraisal of value required by Virginia statute,” said Robert H. Thomas, a Director with Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert in Honolulu and the Hawaii representative of OCA. “If affirmed, the tactics employed in this case by the Commissioner and Department of Transportation will not only be an injustice upon the Ramseys but will serve as a template for future systemic undercompensation in eminent domain actions across Virginia.”
OCA urges the Virginia Supreme Court to reverse the judgment of the Virginia Beach Circuit Court and remand the case for a new trial to determine the amount of just compensation required pursuant to the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions. If VDOT’s abusive tactics are allowed to stand, the property rights of all Virginians are at risk.