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State v. Acadian Properties Northshore, L.L.C.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

April 12, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION & DEVELOPMENT
v.
ACADIAN PROPERTIES NORTHSHORE, L.L.C.

         On Appeal from the 22nd Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of St. Tammany State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 2013-12755 Honorable Scott C. Gardner, Judge Presiding

          Robert S. Reich Marva J. Wyatt Daniel E. Levy Metairie, LA Attorneys for Defendant-Appellant, Acadian Properties Northshore, L.L.C.

          James L. Bradford, III Patrick E. Moore D. Stephen Brouillette, Jr. Covington, LA Jonathan C. Augustine Baton Rouge, LA Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellee, State ofLouisiana, Department of Transportation & Development

          BEFORE: HIGGINBOTHAM, THERIOT, AND CHUTZ, JJ.

          HIGGINBOTHAM, J.

         In this expropriation case, the property owner, Acadian Properties Northshore, L.L.C. ("Acadian Properties"), appeals the amount of just compensation awarded by a jury.

         BACKGROUND

         The vacant, relatively undeveloped property at issue is located in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, fronting Louisiana State Highway 21 ("Hwy 21"). Prior to the expropriation of .932 acres by the State of Louisiana, Department of Transportation and Development ("DOTD"), the tract measured a total of 8.138 acres. Acadian Properties acquired the property in 2007 at a cost of $10.50 per square foot, at a total cost of just under $4, 000, 000.00, with the intention of eventually developing a commercial shopping center at the location. Over the next several years, Acadian Properties obtained some parish permits for site preparation work such as excavating/clearing parts of the property, placing of driveways, and for filling and/or raising the grade of the property to match the level of Hwy 21. Construction of driveways, parking lots, or buildings never commenced, but some of the land was actually cleared and filled before the expropriation. Acadian Properties estimated that it spent approximately $700, 000.00 in site preparation for the entire 8.138 acres.

         On June 12, 2013, DOTD filed a petition seeking to expropriate full ownership of a .932 acre portion of Acadian Properties' larger tract for highway widening purposes. The expropriated portion fronted Hwy 21 and was designated as Parcel 7-1. DOTD acquired title to Parcel 7-1 on June 14, 2013, when it deposited $469, 118.00 (the estimated just compensation due Acadian Properties for the property taken) into the registry of the 22nd Judicial District Court, pursuant to Louisiana's "quick-taking" procedure set forth in La. R.S. 48:441-60. The district court signed an order allowing Acadian Properties to subsequently withdraw the deposit from the registry, without prejudice to Acadian Properties' right to contest the issue of the amount of just compensation.

         Acadian Properties filed an answer and reconventional demand in response to DOTD's petition, seeking additional just compensation for the value of its land that had been taken by DOTD. Acadian Properties also sought severance and economic damages for lost income connected with the future development of a shopping center on the entire tract of land. DOTD filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that Acadian Properties' claim for future lost income related to a shopping center that had not been constructed was highly speculative and not supported by the evidence. The district court agreed with DOTD and granted a partial summary judgment in favor of DOTD on the issue of economic damages connected with lost income from the future development of the shopping center.

         Prior to the jury trial in this matter, DOTD filed numerous motions in limine seeking to exclude or limit certain testimony and evidence, including evidence concerning DOTD's acquisition of neighboring properties for the Hwy 21 widening project; testimony from witnesses, including expert witnesses, not previously identified; and expert opinion testimony pertaining to opinions outside of the "four corners" of the experts' written reports. After a jury trial on November 5-6, 2015, Acadian Properties was awarded an additional amount of $99, 130.80 for just compensation on Parcel 7-1 that was in excess of the previously deposited amount, plus attorney fees and costs. A final judgment was signed accordingly on April 6, 2016. Acadian Properties appealed, maintaining that the judgment failed to award the "full extent" of its loss, including severance damages, that the district court erred in granting DOTD's motion for partial summary judgment, thereby effectively excluding all evidence of economic loss from the future development of a shopping center, and that the district court erred in numerous evidentiary rulings.

         THE LAW ON EXPROPRIATION

         The law concerning the compensation due a landowner whose property has been expropriated is well settled. Louisiana Constitution Article I, Section 4(B), provides in pertinent part:

(1) Property shall not be taken or damaged by the state ... except for public purposes and with just compensation paid to the owner or ...

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