Receiving Just Compensation in Eminent Domain Matters

July 18, 2014

Co-Author: Micheal Hahn

We all know there are two seasons in Wisconsin: winter and construction. One of the consequences of all the construction is anytime a road is widened or rerouted, the government uses its eminent domain power to take the land needed for the road. The affected owners must receive just compensation, but sometimes figuring out what that compensation is can be very difficult.

A recent Court of Appeals decision in The Lamar Co. v. Country Side Restaurant, Inc., Appeal No. 2013AP2215, illustrates just how difficult it can be.

In Lamar, the parties disputed how The Lamar Co. would be compensated for the loss of one of its billboards. The billboard in question was located on property owned by Country Side. Here’s where the case gets interesting. The Lamar Co. was able to get reimbursed for the relocation costs of its sign by the DOT. At the same time, the compensation award for Country Side in the eminent domain proceedings included the value of the sign, which The Lamar Co. was supposed to receive. So, the question became, how does The Lamar Co. receive just – yet not too much – compensation?

The answer is very fact-intensive and depends on various factors, but the cost of relocating a billboard is distinct from the damages for the property that was taken. Lamar, ¶ 1. Put another way, even though The Lamar Co.’s award included the cost to build a new sign, the company was still entitled to the value of the lease and permit that were taken from them. Id., ¶ 4. The Court explained although The Lamar Co. simply leased the land needed for its sign from Country Side, it was still entitled to the value of that lease.

Since the original relocation award did not include the value of the lease and permit, the Court sent the case back to the circuit court to determine the correct amount owed to The Lamar Co. It will not be an easy amount to determine, but doing so ensures The Lamar Co. is justly compensated.

The bottom line is with all the construction taking place in Wisconsin – and scheduled to start in the coming years – it is important to know what you are entitled to if the state condemns and takes your property. If you have a billboard taken, you don’t only receive relocation expenses. You receive the value of the lease and the permit, too.

Special thanks to Summer Associate Micheal Hahn for his assistance with this article.

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For more information about "Receiving Just Compensation in Eminent Domain Matters," contact Buck V. Sweeney at csweeney@axley.com or 608.283.6743.