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Bay Point Properties, Inc. v. Mississippi Transportation Commission

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

August 20, 2018




         BEFORE THE COURT is the Motion [6] to Dismiss filed by Defendants Mississippi Transportation Commission (“MTC”), Mississippi Department of Transportation (“MDOT”), Dick Hall, Mike Tagert, Wayne H. Brown, Melinda McGrath, Larry “Butch” Brown, and Daniel B. Smith. Plaintiff Bay Point Properties, Inc. (“Bay Point”) owns fourteen acres of land sitting on the eastern shore of the Bay of Saint Louis in Mississippi. However, the Mississippi State Highway Commission held a permanent easement over the land for highway purposes to facilitate the construction and maintenance of the eastern foot of the bridge spanning the bay. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast, destroying the bridge. MTC and MDOT rebuilt the bridge, after which they decided to also construct a public park on the remainder of the property that fell within the geographic limits of the easement.

         Bay Point sued MTC and MDOT in state court, arguing that construction of the park constituted a taking of Bay Point's land. A jury awarded Bay Point as just compensation $500.00 in damages, and the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. Bay Point now brings this suit in federal court, seeking over $16 million in just compensation and a declaratory judgment that Defendants' actions and two Mississippi statutes are unconstitutional. Because Bay Point's claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, Defendants' Motion [6] to Dismiss should be granted. This case will be dismissed without prejudice for lack of jurisdiction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Bay Point is a Mississippi corporation that owns a 14.34 acre parcel of land in Pass Christian Isles, Mississippi. Compl. [1] ¶¶ 10, 20. This property sits at the eastern foot of the U.S. Highway 90 bridge that crosses the Bay of St. Louis in Mississippi. Id. Bay Point purchased the property from Wallace Walker on August 1, 1994. Id. ¶ 21. During Walker's ownership of the property, on May 27, 1952, he granted the Mississippi State Highway Commission, which was the predecessor to MTC, an easement over the property for highway purposes. Id. ¶ 24. The easement was obtained for the specific purpose constructing “Toll Project No. 1, ” the bridge crossing the Bay of St. Louis between the cities of Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis. Id.

         After the easement was granted, MTC and MDOT operated Toll Project No. 1 for more than fifty years until Hurricane Katrina destroyed the bridge on August 29, 2005. Id. ¶ 26. MTC and MDOT chose not to rebuild Toll Project No. 1, but rather demolished and removed it. Id. ¶ 27. MTC and MDOT decided to relocate the bridge and selected a different roadbed for the new U.S. Highway 90, and thus the bridge, which required the establishment of a new right-of-way and the acquisition of additional property. Id. ¶ 28. Ultimately, MTC and MDOT used 4.6 acres of Bay Point's tract of land to build the new highway, bridge, and its necessary right-of-way. Id. ¶ 30.

         After completion of the new bridge, MTC and MDOT elected to construct a recreational park on the remainder of the property that was not used for the new bridge but was still subject to the easement. Id. ¶ 31. The park was built on the abandoned roadbed of the discontinued Toll Project No. 1. Id. ¶ 32. In its minutes dated November 10, 2009, MTC authorized MDOT to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement on behalf of MTC with Harrison County regarding the financing, construction, and operation of the park on Bay Point's property. Id. ¶ 36. Under the Memorandum, MTC would construct the park and Harrison County would operate and maintain it. Id. ¶ 38.

         When Bay Point learned of MTC and MDOT's intention to construct the park, it sent a letter to MTC and MDOT on November 20, 2009, objecting to the park's construction and demanding that construction cease. Id. ¶ 40. On December 2, 2009, Defendant Daniel Smith, Administrator of the Right-of-Way Division of MDOT, emailed Bay Point requesting to discuss the issue. Id. ¶ 41. Ultimately, MTC took the position that the original easement had not been abandoned and that Mississippi Code section 65-1-51 authorized it to construct the park on the property in question under the existing easement. Id. ¶ 48. Section 65-1-51 states, in relevant part, that the MTC “may acquire and have the Transportation Department develop publicly owned and controlled rest and recreation areas and sanitary and other facilities within or adjacent to the highway right-of-way reasonably necessary to accommodate the traveling public.” Miss. Code. Ann. § 65-1-51. MTC informed Bay Point that it intended to build the park and would not purchase the property from Bay Point. Compl. [1] ¶ 48. The park has been completed and is currently being operated by Harrison County. Id. ¶ 51.

         B. Procedural History

         1. Bay Point's state-court jury trial and appeal

         On April 1, 2011, Bay Point filed an inverse condemnation suit against MTC and MDOT in the Circuit Court of Harrison County, Mississippi. Id. ¶ 53. A jury trial took place from August 5 to August 13, 2013. Id. ¶ 54. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Bay Point on its inverse condemnation claim, finding that the use of the property was not for highway purposes and that there was a taking of Bay Point's property for public use. Id. ¶ 57. The trial court instructed the jury that unless it found that MTC had released the easement on its minutes, MTC retained the easement and the jury could award Bay Point a sum of money not to exceed a nominal sum supported by the evidence in the case. Id. ¶¶ 55, 58. The jury determined that the easement continued to encumber the property, Miss. Sup. Ct. Op. [1-1] at 1-2, and awarded Bay Point $500.00 in damages, Compl. [1] ¶ 59. The trial court denied Bay Point's motion for attorneys' fees and costs, and entered a Final Judgment on January 8, 2014. Id. ¶ 60.

         Bay Point appealed the trial court's Final Judgment to the Supreme Court of Mississippi, id. ¶ 61, which affirmed the merits[1] of the Final Judgment on July 21, 2016, id. ¶ 62. After the Supreme Court of Mississippi resolved Bay Point's appeal, on March 3, 2017, Bay Point filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, which denied Bay Point's petition on June 26, 2017. Compl. [1] ¶ 63-64.

         2. Bay Point's Complaint in federal court

         On July 21, 2017, Bay Point filed a Complaint [1] in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, advancing several claims for constitutional violations. The Complaint names as Defendants MTC, MDOT, Mike Tagert and Tom King, in their capacities as Mississippi Transportation Commissioners, Wayne Brown and William Minor, in their capacities as former Mississippi Transportation Commissioners, Melinda McGrath, in her capacity as Executive Director of the MDOT, Larry “Butch” Brown, in his capacity as former Executive Director of MDOT, and Daniel Smith, in his capacity as Administrator of the Right-of-Way Division of MDOT. Compl. [1].

         Counts I, II, and VI of the Complaint bring takings, substantive due process, and unreasonable seizure claims, respectively. Compl. [1] at 19. These claims rest upon similar grounds, specifically, that Defendants physically invaded Bay Point's property and destroyed Bay Point's property rights without just compensation. Bay Point alleges that when MTC and MDOT discontinued Toll Project No. 1, the purpose of the easement was terminated and the property was no longer burdened by the easement under common law. Id. at 79. MTC was then mandated to release the easement on its minutes under Mississippi Code section 65-1-123. Alternatively, Bay Point claims that section 65-1-123 cannot be applied retroactively to the easement created in 1952. Bay Point contends that Defendants' enforcement of Mississippi Code sections 65-1-123 and 65-1-51 to take Bay Point's land without just compensation is unconstitutional.

         In Count III advances a procedural due process claim, Compl. [1] at 34, and Count IV alleges a violation of equal protection, id. at 35. Bay Point claims that Defendants violated the Contracts Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in Count V on grounds that Mississippi Code section 65-1-123(5)-(7) was not added to the statute until 1988, and Defendants cannot retroactively apply that ...

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