Friday, February 23, 2007
Valuing Condemned Property in ‘Quick-Take’ Case as of Date of Deposit Is Constitutional—S.C.
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
The statutory requirement that a deposit of probable just compensation in a “quick-take” eminent domain case be valued on the date of deposit does not deny a property owner just compensation, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
Moreover, the justices held, an owner is not denied just compensation by the statutory provision that withdrawal of the deposit constitutes a waiver of the right to challenge the taking.
The decision affirms rulings by the Fourth District Court of Appeal in a case involving an eminent domain action against Azusa Pacific University.
The “quick-take” action—which authorizes certain public agencies to take immediate possession of the condemned property without first making payment to the owner—was brought in October 2000 by Mt. San Jacinto Community College District.
The district sought to condemn approximately 30 acres of vacant land owned by APU in Riverside County, and deposited $1.789 million into court as probable compensation for the property. In accordance with Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 1263.110, the district used the date of the deposit as the date of valuation.
The district took possession of the property in January 2002 pursuant to a prejudgment order for possession, and Riverside Superior Court Judge Robert George Spitzer later ruled the district had the right to take the property.
Prior to the trial on the issue of just compensation, which had been bifurcated from the possession issue, the district and APU both moved to determine the date of valuation.
Spitzer ruled that the property should be valued as of the date trial commenced, which was December 6, 2004.
Acting on a petition by the district, the Court of Appeal issued a writ of mandate directing Spitzer to vacate the order and enter a new one setting December 15, 2000 as the valuation date.
The court rejected APU’s separate argument that it was denied just compensation by Sec. 1255.260’s requirement that it waive the right to litigate the legality of the taking if it withdrew the deposited funds.
Justice Ming W. Chin, writing for a unanimous bench, agreed with both of the appellate panel’s conclusions.
There is no reason to invalidate the statutory date of valuation where a deposit had been made and the owner had access to the money at the time, he said, noting:
“If the date of valuation could be delayed until the date of trial, owners in a rising market would have a considerable incentive to delay proceedings for as long as possible to ensure a greater return on their property.”
With regard to APU’s Sec. 1255.260 claim, Chin wrote that conditioning withdrawal of the deposit on a waiver of the right to challenge the taking was no unconstitutional.
“An owner cannot have it both ways,” the justice said. “It is reasonable to require the owner to choose one or the other: either to deny the condemner’s right to take the property and litigate, or to take the deposit.”
Representing the parties in the Supreme Court were Michael M. Berger of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips for the university, and Riverside lawyer Steven B. Abbott of Redwine and Sherrill for the district.
The case is Mt. San Jacinto Community College District v. Superior Court (Azusa Pacific University), 07 S.O.S. 876.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company