Published in the Illinois Government Lawyers Association Journal
Something to Think About
By Jacob E. Gancarczyk and Christian Spesia
The goal in any condemnation proceeding is to determine “just” compensation – i.e. compensation that places the landowner in the same economic position as they were in prior to the taking. In order to determine the amount of compensation that is owed to the landowner both parties typically hire appraisers. In addition to the appraisers, the landowners whose property is subject to eminent domain are generally considered qualified to testify about the value of their property as a whole. This is because the law recognizes that generally owners are knowledgeable about how much their property is worth because they purchased it, as well as the amounts the routinely pay in taxes and that they receive as rents and incomes derived from it. However, this general rule does not give a landowner an absolute right to the admittance of their testimony in condemnation cases. In Illinois Extension Pipeline Company, L.L.C. v. Kuerth, 2016 IL App (4th) 150519, the Fourth District Appellate Court approved the trial court’s barring the landowners’ from testifying at trial. The court acknowledged that land valuation in condemnation proceedings is complex, and suggested that, despite the general rule, a landowner still has to show that their opinions have a sufficient basis and are credible.
The landowners in Kuerth sought more than five hundred-thousand dollars in compensation for a mere 3.6 acres of permanent-pipeline easement based on “fear” and “stigmatism” which they alleged were associated with oil pipelines. The landowners argued they were able to testify to such elements by the very fact that they were the landowners. In addition, the landowners argued that even if such elements were found to be improper, the opinions should still not be barred in their entirety because their use of improper elements of damage should only go to the weight of the evidence, not its admissibility. The Fourth District Appellate Court in Kuerth rejected these theories and approved the barring of the landowners who based their opinions, in part, on “subjective, speculative, and improper” elements. The court concluded that any witness who bases their opinions, in part, on improper elements effectively makes their entire testimony inadmissible. Ultimately, the appellate court approved a directed verdict in favor of the energy company, represented by Spesia & Ayers, for just compensation totaling 1% of the total amount sought by the landowners.