December 12, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Roaring Fork Transportation Authority Possessed Eminent Domain Power by Statute

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Sos v. Roaring Fork Transportation Authority on Thursday, November 16, 2017.

Eminent Domain—Inverse Condemnation Claim—Compensable Damages—Restoration Damages—Diminution in Value.

Sos owns property on which he owns and operates a tire business. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) built a bus station on the property north of and adjacent to his property. Before RFTA began construction, an earthen embankment rested on the property line between Sos’s and RFTA’s properties. Sos regularly sold tires and other items on the embankment and, with the previous owner’s permission, on the northern property. As part of its construction, RFTA removed the embankment and built a wall on its property, and then restored the embankment, which the wall relies on for lateral support. Sos then wanted to remove the embankment to facilitate his business. He brought an inverse condemnation claim against RFTA because the bus station wall relies on his property for lateral support. RFTA moved for summary judgment and Sos moved for partial summary judgment, regarding whether a compensable taking or damages had occurred. The district court denied RFTA’s motion and granted Sos’s motion, determining that the force the bus station wall permanently imposed on the embankment constituted compensable damage under article II, section 15 of the Colorado Constitution, and that the proper measure of damages was restoration damages rather than diminution in value.

On appeal, RFTA argued that the district court erred in determining that RFTA possessed the power of eminent domain because the General Assembly had not granted RFTA this power expressly or by clear implication, and because it does not possess the power of eminent domain, Sos cannot establish an inverse condemnation claim. Pursuant to the plain language of C.R.S. § 43-4-604, RFTA has the power of eminent domain by clear implication.

RFTA next asserted that the district court erred in concluding that RFTA’s bus station wall caused compensable damage because the wall’s construction did not substantially diminish the value of Sos’s property or substantially change Sos’s use of his property. The district court found, with record support, that RFTA authorized the building of the bus station wall and that RFTA incorporated the embankment’s support into the bus station wall’s design and construction. The court, therefore, properly determined that the imposition of force on Sos’s embankment was the natural consequence of RFTA’s intentional construction of the bus station wall. Further, the record, including RFTA’s own expert opinions, supported the district court’s finding that the bus station wall imposed a new force on Sos’s embankment to such a degree that an engineered remedy was now required before the embankment could be excavated. The district court properly determined that RFTA damaged Sos’s property.

RFTA next contended that the district court erred in ruling that restoration costs rather than diminution of value was the proper measure of damages. The record shows that the diminution in value of Sos’s property after RFTA built the bus station was de minimis. But RFTA’s construction substantially limited Sos’s use and enjoyment of the embankment area. Therefore, the district court properly determined Sos’s damages under the measure of restoration costs.

RFTA further argued that the district court erred in allowing evidence of Sos’s business and personal uses for his property because such interests are non-compensable in condemnation cases. RFTA contended that Sos presented no admissible evidence regarding restoration costs or supporting the damages award. The Court of Appeals concluded that the district court’s damages award is supported by competent record evidence.

RFTA also argued that the district court erred in rejecting its proposed instructions regarding diminution of value being the proper measure of damages. The district court’s decision was supported by competent evidence and did not cause the commissioners to be inaccurately instructed on the law.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.