Missouri Supreme Court Unanimously Upholds $2.1 Million Eminent Domain Judgment for Property Owned by Family for 106 Years

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Missouri Supreme Court finds Heritage Value Statute constitutional and rules in favor of family represented by St. Louis eminent domain attorney and Missouri Owners' Counsel of America member, Robert Denlow.

In 2006, the Missouri Legislature reacted against the infamous Kelo decision by protecting owners that have held on to their property for at least 50 years. The [Missouri] Supreme Court today backed the Legislature’s protection for property owners.

Yesterday, in St. Louis Cnty v River Bend Estates Homeowners' Ass'n, No. SC92470 (Sep. 10, 2013), the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of Missouri’s Heritage Value Statute, §§ 523.001(2) and 523.061 RSMo, that awards certain property owners a 50% increase over the fair market value of their property when the property is taken by eminent domain.

“This is an important day for property owners in the State of Missouri," said Robert Denlow, the attorney for the property owners and the Missouri Owners' Counsel of America representive. "In 2006, the Missouri Legislature reacted against the infamous Kelo decision by protecting owners that have held on to their property for at least 50 years. The [Missouri] Supreme Court today backed the Legislature’s protection for property owners.”

This case arose from a jury trial held in St. Louis County in December 2011 that resulted in a judgment awarding the Novel family $2.1 million as damages for the taking of their property through eminent domain. The Novel family had owned their 15 acres of land on the eastern edge of Chesterfield since it was purchased by the family patriarch, Arthur Novel, in 1904. The property served as the family home and farm until Mr. Novel passed away in the late 1960's and has remained under the family's ownership.

St. Louis County acquired the property using its power of eminent domain for the purpose of constructing a portion of the Highway 141 extension known as the “Page-Olive Connector.” After negotiations with the owners failed, the County initiated condemnation proceedings and took possession of the property in March 2010.

At the trial, the County presented a range of evidence that the property was worth from $208,000 to $238,000. The County contended that the property’s value was due to the fact that most of it was located in a flood plain, contained wetlands and access issues. The property owners asked the jury to value the property at $1.3 million based upon a history of development in the area that overcame similar flood plain issues. On December 15, 2011, the jury returned its verdict valuing the property at $1.3 million.

Following the jury trial, the property owners requested the trial judge to award them “heritage value” for the property. Heritage Value was established by the Missouri Legislature in 2006. It awards an additional 50% in condemnation cases when the property has been owned by the same family for over 50 years. In this case, the amount of heritage value amounted to $650,000. The owners also asked the court to award them interest of over $150,000 for the time that had lapsed between the physical taking of their property in March of 2010 and the trial in December 2011. The court granted the owners’ requests, and entered judgment for the jury verdict of $1.3 million plus $650,000 heritage value and $150,000 in interest for a verdict totaling $2.1 million.

“The jury saw through the issues to award what was fair in this case. It was one of the more difficult condemnation trials, because we had to educate the jury to almost make them experts in flood plain issues and to explain the process of taking raw land and turning it into developable property," explained Denlow after the trial. "The family who owned the property never intended to sell it and simply wanted to hold it as a tribute to their grandfather. They understood that progress required that the County needed their property, and they never fought that. They merely wanted a fair price. Thankfully, the jury did its part to ensure that the Novel family will receive just compensation as required by the Constitution.”

The County appealed the jury verdict to the Missouri Supreme Court claiming the trial court committed errors in ruling on certain evidence and that the Heritage Value Statute violated various provisions of the Missouri Constitution. The Supreme Court rejected the County’s appeal issuing an opinion September 10, 2013. The decision by the Supreme Court was unanimous, though Judge Wilson did not participate as he was not yet on the Court when the appeal was argued in November 2012.

ABOUT OWNERS' COUNSEL OF AMERICA:

The Owners’ Counsel of America is a nationwide network of experienced eminent domain attorneys dedicated to protecting the rights of private property owners large and small, locally and nationally, and to advancing the cause of property rights. The lawyers affiliated with OCA are in private practice in nearly every state and represent private landowners against federal, state, and local governments, utilities, transportation and redevelopment authorities and other entities that may be armed with eminent domain power. For more information or to locate a condemnation lawyer in your state, please visit http://www.ownerscounsel.com.

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Catherine Newman

Robert Denlow
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