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Redding v. Mississippi Transp. Comm'n

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

November 25, 2014

TALLULAH A. REDDING, SHARON L. ANDERSON AND ARTHUR WAYNE ANDERSON, JR., APPELLANTS
v.
MISSISSIPPI TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION, APPELLEE

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: DESOTO COUNTY SPECIAL COURT OF EMINENT DOMAIN. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/16/2013. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. ALLEN B. COUCH JR. TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: JURY AWARDED APPELLANTS $1,709,197 IN DAMAGES AND COMPENSATION.

FOR APPELLANTS: PAUL R. SCOTT, ROBERT E. QUIMBY.

FOR APPELLEE: RICHARD G. NOBLE.

GRIFFIS, P.J. LEE, C.J., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, CARLTON, MAXWELL AND FAIR, JJ., CONCUR. JAMES, J., DISSENTS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION, JOINED BY IRVING, P.J.

Page 959

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - EMINENT DOMAIN

EN BANC.

GRIFFIS, P.J.

[¶1] This is the appeal of a jury verdict in an eminent-domain action. The Mississippi Transportation Commission (" MTC" ) sought to acquire certain property owned by Tallulah Redding, Sharon Anderson, and Arthur Anderson (the " landowners" ). The landowners were awarded $1,709,197 in compensation and damages a result of the taking of their property. On appeal, the landowners argued that the trial court erred when it excluded an earlier appraisal of the property. Finding reversible error, we remand for a new trial.

FACTS

[¶2] The MTC sought to locate, relocate, construct or reconstruct a segment of State Road 304/I-269 from I-55 to State Road 305 in DeSoto County, Mississippi. More specifically, the MTC sought to acquire 81.28 acres from a parcel of 436.19 acres that were owned by the landowners. The MTC initiated negotiations with the landowners but were unable to come to an agreement.

[¶3] On August 3, 2010, the MTC commenced this eminent-domain action. The MTC sought to acquire property and asked for an order granting the right of immediate title and possession. On September 10, 2010, the court entered an order granting the MTC the right to immediate title and possession of the property. On October 5, 2010, the MTC filed a statement of values that represented the value of the property to be condemned at $1,370,975.

[¶4] The central issue in this appeal is the pre-negotiation appraisal report prepared for the MTC, which was required by Mississippi Code Annotated section 43-37-3. On February 8, 2011, the court ordered the production of the pre-negotiation appraisal report. On May 9, 2011, the MTC

Page 960

filed a motion in limine that asked the court:

to enter an order ordering and directing the attorney for the [landowners] to refrain from mentioning, stating or suggesting in the presence of the jury or prospective jurors [prior] to or during the trial of this case, either through the examination of witnesses, offer of evidence, arguments, statements or otherwise anything with reference to an offer of compromise and settlement made to [the landowners] prior to the filing date of August 3, 2010, said offer of compromise having been mandated by Section 43-37-3, Miss. Code. Ann., 1972.

The motion argued that the pre-negotiation appraisal report would be " highly prejudicial and violates Mississippi Rule of Evidence 408." The landowners filed a response and the MTC filed a " supplement." On June 24, 2011, the court denied the motion in limine.

[¶5] On July 6, 2011, the MTC sought to appeal the court's decision and filed a petition for permission for interlocutory appeal with the Mississippi Supreme Court. By order dated July 12, 2011, the petition was denied.

[¶6] The trial was scheduled to begin on March 21, 2012. The day before, on March 20, the MTC filed another motion in limine that asked the court to exclude the pre-negotiation appraisal report. On April 25, 2012, the court entered a " Limine Order" that granted the earlier motion in limine and ruled that the pre-negotiation appraisal report was inadmissible. The landowners filed a motion to reconsider, and it was denied.

[¶7] The jury trial was held from April 9 through April 11, 2013. William Milton, the MTC's appraiser, testified that the property's appraised value was $1,370,975. His prenegotiation appraisal report, which was excluded, appraised the property at $1,912,125. The landowners' expert appraiser, Rip Walker, testified that the just compensation due to the owners was $3,700,000. The jury returned a verdict of $1,709,197. The landowners timely filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, additur, or new trial, and it was denied. Their appeal has been deflected to this Court.

DISCUSSION

[¶8] The landowners' appeal challenges the trial court's decision to exclude the prenegotiation appraisal report. They claim that Mississippi law provides that the landowners are entitled to use the condemning authority's original, highly relevant appraisal for impeachment purposes when a condemning agency's opinion of just compensation at trial is lower than its previous opinion. They cite Morley v. Jackson Redevelopment Authority, 632 So.2d 1284 (Miss. 1994). Further, they claim the jury heard about how the downturn in the economy impacted Milton's valuation. However, the jury did not hear that Milton had already taken the downturn into account when he made his first appraisal. They claim that this was a critical fact the jury should know, especially considering Milton's first appraisal calculated just compensation due to the landowners to be $541,150 higher than his testimony in court.

[¶9] We begin with a close and careful look at the trial court's decision. The trial court's April 25, 2012 " Limine Order" held:

This matter came on for jury trial on March 21, 2012. At the onset of the proceedings, [the MTC] made a motion in limine to exclude [the landowners]' use of any MTC appraisals performed prior to the established date of taking in this matter, August 3, 2010. Prior to

Page 961

the appraiser's testimony, the Court sustained [the MTC]'s motion without comment and advised that a written opinion would follow. Before [the landowners]' cross-examination of the [MTC]'s appraiser, ...

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