Monday, May 11, 2009

Ms. Ahearn's $25 Million Eminent Domain Verdict

Gideon Kanner posted this four days ago, about a 101-year old landowner who may have gotten even with the local government. Then the Eminent Domain Law Blog picked it up last Friday, and it's just too good to pass up.

The landowner, 101-year old Ms. Ahearn, had been offered $25 million for her golf course property some 10 years ago, and the local government (Evergreen Park, Illinois) killed the deal by refusing to rezone the property. Then, as luck would have it, the town decided to acquire the property by eminent domain ... offering $5 million. The jury, however, after 30 minutes of deliberation, came back with $25 million -- the amount Ms. Ahearn would have received 10 years ago.

Now comes the difficult part. As in Florida, Illinois apparently allows the condemning authority to "walk away" if it doesn't like the jury verdict. It pays costs and attorneys' fees, but that doesn't do much for the landowner.

We have an analogy to Ms. Ahearn's case here in the Florida Keys -- Florida DEP v West, et al. The West case is pending in the Florida Third District Court of Appeals, after a jury came in at $5.06 million in an eminent domain proceeding where the State put up only $550,000. We represent the landowners in West, and are defending the appeal. But we have a leg up on Ms. Ahearn -- as the State "blinked" and filed a "quick-take" almost at the height of the real estate bubble in 2004. The State of Florida cannot "walk away" on this one.

The State of Florida filed the West condemnation proceeding in 1995, as a slow-take (like Ms. Ahearn's in Illinois). We responded with a regulatory taking counterclaim, figuring the State would run like a scared rabbit if a jury came in at 10 times what the State was offering back then. At the least, the taking counterclaim could be pursued if the State decided to bail out of its slow-take. Fortunately, the State blinked in 2004, and we converted the counterclaim into a motion in-limine on condemnation blight.

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