A Georgia landowner was victorious in his fight for just compensation in another eminent domain case in the state. This time the issue was not whether the pipeline company could seize the property through eminent domain, but what amount the landowner should receive as just compensation. The law requires that in order for the power of eminent domain to be exercised, the confiscating party must first provide just compensation to the owner. The payment to the landowner is regarded as compensation for the interference with his exclusive right to use and enjoy his property without intrusion from others.
Sabal Trail, which constructed a natural gas pipeline running through Alabama, Georgia and Florida, was granted eminent domain by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The agency determined that the company may seize the private property of landowners for the purpose of laying its pipeline pursuant to the power to acquire private land for a public purpose. Sabal Trail first made an offer to the property owner, Mr. Lasseter, for $19,971 for the use of about two acres of the landowner’s 74 acres of land. Mr. Lasseter said that he intended to convert the land into residential use.
The landowner argued that the offer did not constitute just compensation and refused to take the payment. The pipeline company brought legal action against the landowner to compel him to accept the payment. A jury trial in Valdosta resulted in a verdict for the landowner. He was awarded $103,385 in compensation – five times more than the amount originally proposed by the company.
The pipeline company relied on the testimony of its appraiser who maintained that the original amount of $19,971 was fair compensation for the land according to the prevailing methods used for determining just compensation in eminent domain cases. This case once again highlights the challenges of determining just compensation in condemnation cases. In theory, just compensation should be aimed at making the owner “whole” again. While the valuation generally boils down to assessing fair market value or the amount of depreciation after the seizure, this is often a highly disputed matter. The factual circumstances of the case weigh heavily in this calculation and expert witnesses are necessary to arrive at a mutually agreeable conclusion.
The experienced team of attorneys at the Law Offices of Mark Weinstein, P.C. can help you litigate your real estate claims. Contact Mark Weinstein and his colleagues at (770) 888-7707 or visit them at https://www.markweinsteinlaw.com to find out how they can advise you.