Raising Issues of Statutory Compliance…And No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
What happens when a condemnor offers to pay more for a taking than its appraiser found for damages? Most landowners would be pleased. In this case, the landowner apparently was not, claiming the condemnor failed to base its jurisdictional offer on the appraisal amount because the offer was higher than the appraisal. Thus, the argument was that the condemnor failed to follow the statutory requirement to provide an appraisal upon which the jurisdictional offer is based. The Court of Appeals was unimpressed.
As part of the acquisition process in a condemnation action, the condemnor is required to give a full narrative appraisal to the landowner “upon which the jurisdictional offer is based.” When the jurisdictional offer that is made to the landowner is higher than the appraised value of the property as set forth in the full narrative appraisal, the landowner sometimes argues the jurisdictional offer is not really based upon the appraisal, but rather based upon something else. The landowner claims the condemnor has violated the statutory requirement of providing an appraisal upon which the jurisdictional offer is based.
In Sai Ram Real Estate Management, LLC v. Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the jurisdictional offer made to the landowner was significantly higher than the appraised value contained in the full narrative appraisal. During the appeal of the condemnation commission’s award of just compensation, the landowner sought a court order for the DOT to produce an appraisal upon which the jurisdictional offer was based, claiming the full narrative appraisal it was given was not the appraisal upon which the jurisdictional offer was based. The trial court denied the landowner’s request, concluding that the jurisdictional offer did not have to match the appraised value.
In a December 18, 2014, unpublished decision, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the trial court. In doing so, the court did not address the merits of the landowner’s argument. Rather, the court determined the landowner’s argument should have been brought in a separate statutory action that contested the pre-condemnation procedure rather than in the appeal of the condemnation commission award. The court stated that the statute is clear and that the only issues to be addressed in an appeal of a condemnation commission award are the amount of just compensation due to the landowner and questions of title. Because the landowner’s argument was based upon the DOT’s failure to comply with statutory pre-condemnation procedures, it is not an issue that is properly addressed in an appeal of a condemnation commission award.