Before Bridges, C.j., Payne, And Southwick, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Southwick, J.
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/12/1997
TRIAL JUDGE: HON. LEE J. HOWARD
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: OKTIBBEHA COUNTY SPECIAL COURT OF EMINENT DOMAIN
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - EMINENT DOMAIN
TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: JURY AWARD OF $8,083.64
DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND REMANDED FOR A NEW TRIAL
¶1. The Mississippi Transportation Commission filed an eminent domain petition in the Oktibbeha County Special Court of Eminent Domain. From a jury verdict awarding $8,083.64, the landowner Venice Bishop appeals. He alleges that the Commission's expert witness was not qualified to value timber, that accordingly a mistrial or peremptory instruction should have been granted, and that testimony by Bishop's expert regarding use of the property was improperly limited. We agree that the Commission never put on adequate evidence regarding value and that Bishop was erroneously restricted regarding his evidence. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.
¶2. This suit resulted from expansion of Highway 25 near Starkville. The Commission sought to condemn 6.7 acres of property owned by Venice Bishop and others. Bishop wished to show that the highest and best use for the land, located about five miles from Starkville, was as rural residential land and that compensation of $80,750 was due. The Commission maintained that the property's best use was as timberland and put the value absent the standing timber at $3,025. The Commission's attempt to indicate the value of the timber was initially thwarted, but ultimately the court permitted testimony that with the timber the property was worth $5,925. The jury awarded $8,083.64.
¶3. The land is part of a forty acre tract. The most utilized method of access is across the property of Mr. Lenon West. Bishop proffered testimony that should he wish to develop his land for residences Mr. West would have no objection to granting him an easement. Moreover, even though a written easement did not exist at the time of the trial, Bishop argued that an easement by prescription had matured. The Commission responded that what in fact existed was nothing more than permissive use and any opportunity to access the land across the property of Mr. West could be revoked at the discretion of Mr. West. The court ruled the evidence of an easement was irrelevant.
ISSUE 1: Absence of proper evidence by Commission on value
¶4. The Commission put on testimony from appraiser Lucy Griffin, an agency employee, regarding the value of the condemned property. Ms. Griffin testified that after analyzing three comparable sales of land she found this property was worth $450 per acre without assessing the timber value. Ms. Griffin stated she had no opinion as to the value of the timber and later testified she was "not an expert in timber value." The property had a ...