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Starkville Lodging, LLC v. Mississippi Transportation Commission

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

August 27, 2019

STARKVILLE LODGING, LLC APPELLANT
v.
MISSISSIPPI TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/17/2018

          COURT 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

          BEFORE BARNES, C.J., McDONALD AND C. WILSON, JJ.

          C. WILSON, J.

         ¶1. 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.

         ¶2. Finding the Special Court of Eminent Domain had a sufficient basis for its decision to deny Starkville Lodging's motion to dismiss, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶3. 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.

         ¶4. 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.

         ¶5. 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[.]"[1]

         ¶6. 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.

         ¶7. 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 ...

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