OF JUDGMENT: 09/17/2018
FROM WHICH APPEALED: OKTIBBEHA COUNTY SPECIAL COURT OF
EMINENT DOMAIN TRIAL JUDGE: HON. LEE SORRELS COLEMAN
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: JAMES W. NOBLES JR.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
MORRIS C. PHILLIPS JR. BILLY HALL
BARNES, C.J., McDONALD AND C. WILSON, JJ.
The Mississippi Transportation Commission (the Commission)
initiated this eminent domain proceeding in the Special Court
of Eminent Domain of Oktibbeha County, Mississippi, on
December 17, 2017. Starkville Lodging subsequently filed a
combined answer and motion to dismiss pursuant to Mississippi
Code Annotated section 11-27-15 (Rev. 2004), which the
Special Court of Eminent Domain denied on September 17, 2018.
Starkville Lodging appeals the denial of its motion to
dismiss, seeking review of (1) whether there is a public
necessity for taking Starkville Lodging's property; and
(2) whether the Commission's contemplated use of the
condemned property is in law a public use for which
Starkville Lodging's property may be taken.
Finding the Special Court of Eminent Domain had a sufficient
basis for its decision to deny Starkville Lodging's
motion to dismiss, we affirm.
Eight years prior to the initiation of this proceeding, the
Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) deeded a
parcel of land it no longer needed for drainage or
transportation purposes to Starkville Lodging. A portion of
this 2.45-acre parcel comprises the disputed property in this
eminent domain proceeding.
On December 1, 2015, the City of Starkville (the City)
authorized the sale of approximately 20.34 acres of
city-owned property, formerly used by the City as a sewage
lagoon, that was no longer needed or used in the operation of
the municipality. The City determined that the sale of the
sewage lagoon property would promote and foster the
development, improvement, and economic welfare of the
community. This property is located to the southwest of
Starkville Lodging's disputed tract.
On the same day, the City entered into a contract for the
sale and purchase of the abandoned sewage lagoon property
with Dr. Bennett York, an oral surgeon and real estate
developer from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Due to the
landlocked nature of the sewage lagoon property, the contract
for the sale and purchase of the sewage lagoon was
conditioned on the "State allowing access to [the]
property for [the] intended use [of the] Buyer." The
contract provided that Dr. York could extend the closing if
needed to ensure that access was granted. According to Dr.
York, "[a]ccess was always the problem." In all,
approximately six contract extensions were made for "the
purpose of [the eminent domain] proceeding being decided in
favor of MDOT and providing [Dr. York] access to the
abandoned sewage lagoon[.]"
On August 12, 2016, the Commission and the City authorized
and executed a memorandum of agreement for the
"acquisition of [a] right[-]of[-]way" to provide
for "the construction and maintenance of
interconnections between the state[-]designated highway
system and [the] streets of the municipalit[y][.]" The
stated purpose of the memorandum of agreement was to correct
an oversight by the Commission in acquiring a portion of an
easement owned by the City during the Commission's
earlier acquisition of right-of-way to "expand and
relocate State Route 12 from the MSU campus to the U.S.
Highway 82 bypass[.]" The property to be acquired by the
Commission pursuant to the memorandum of agreement was the
parcel owned by Starkville Lodging at issue here.
The memorandum of agreement provided in relevant part:
[The Commission shall] . . . commence acquisition of
right[-]of[-]way to provide for a connection from the current
location of Pat Station Road east of State Route 12 outside
the state-maintained limits of the intersection to the
easement rights which extend from the southerly border of the
intersection of State ...