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State, Department of Transportation & Development v. Munson

Court of Appeal of Louisiana, First Circuit

January 21, 2015

STATE OF LOUISIANA, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION & DEVELOPMENT
v.
JAMES L. MUNSON, ET UX

Appealed from the 20th Judicial District Court, In and for the Parish of West Feliciana State of Louisiana. Case No. 19043. The Honorable George H. Ware, Jr., Judge Presiding.

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Clayton M. Perkins, Jr., Zachary, Louisiana, Counsel for Defendants/1st Appellants/Appellees, James and Shirley Munson.

James L. Bradford, III, D. Stephen Brouillette, Jr., Covington, Louisiana And Debra C. Eldredge, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellee/2nd Appellant, State of Louisiana, Department of Transportation and Development.

BEFORE: GUIDRY, THERIOT, AND DRAKE, JJ.

OPINION

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[2014 0492 La.App. 1 Cir. 2] THERIOT, J.

In this case involving an expropriation proceeding, the defendants appeal a trial court judgment setting the amount of just compensation for the property and awarding some, but not all, requested expert witness fees. The plaintiff appeals the award of attorney fees and expert witness fees to defendants. We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On July 8, 2005, the State of Louisiana through the Department of Transportation and Development (" DOTD" ) filed a petition for expropriation in accordance with La. R.S. 48:442, in which it sought to expropriate a portion of a larger tract of property owned bye defendants, James and Shirley Munson, for highway purposes. An Order of Expropriation was signed by the court on July 13, 2005. Prior to the expropriation, the Munsons owned a total of 14.54 acres on the southeast side of Louisiana State Highway 61 and operated

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a bed and breakfast, plant nursery, and gift shop (" Stillwater Farms" ) on the property. The just compensation for the full ownership of the expropriated portion of the Munsons' property (approximately 1.472 acres) was estimated to be $143,654.00. DOTD deposited that amount in the registry of the court on July 15, 2005, and on November 2, 2005, an order was signed allowing the Munsons to withdraw that deposit from the registry of the court, without prejudice to their right to contest the issue of the amount of just compensation.

On July 6, 2006, the Munsons filed an answer and reconventional demand to DOTD's petition for expropriation, alleging in their reconventional demand that the amount of just compensation offered by DOTD was inadequate to compensate them for the value of the property [2014 0492 La.App. 1 Cir. 3] taken. The Munsons also requested attorney fees in accordance with La. R.S. 48:453(E) and recovery of expert witness fees.

A jury trial was held on May 1 and 2, 2013, during which both the Munsons and DOTD offered expert testimony regarding the amount of just compensation. Additionally, at the Munsons' request and over DOTD's objection, the jury visited the Munson property to view the property as it existed after expropriation. The jury found that the just compensation due to the Munsons for the expropriation of their property was $148,640.00. The jury found that the remainder of the Munsons' property was not damaged by the expropriation, and further found that the Munsons did not suffer any other pecuniary, financial, or economic loss as a result of the expropriation. After a hearing on the Munsons' request for attorney fees, costs, and expert witness fees, the trial court rendered a judgment on November 26, 2013 in accordance with the jury verdict and further ordering that DOTD pay the Munsons legal interest on the difference between the just compensation award and the deposited amount, plus attorney's fees of $1,246.50, court costs, and expert witness fees of $7,112.46. Both the Munsons and DOTD appealed.

ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR:

The Munsons appealed devolutively, assigning the following ...


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