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Glaize Creek Sewer District blows condemnation case, but gets new chance


At a condemnation trial, Glaize Creek Sewer District (in Jefferson County, Missouri, just south of St. Louis), didn’t put on any admissible evidence of damages to the Gorhams’ property. The Gorhams put on proper evidence of damages, showing that the value of their property after the sewer line was installed declined by $29,000. The Missouri Court of Appeals reversed the jury verdict of zero damages (based on an appraiser‘s unsubstantiated opinion testimony), and sent the case back for a new trial.

Two things are unusual about this case:

  • The sewer district’s appraiser did not actually perform an appraisal, but said that he was only asked “to determine whether or not there was an impact on the property from the easement.” Missouri statute 523.001(1)requires before-and-after valuations in condemnation cases where only a portion of a tract of real estate is taken.
  • The Gorhams’ appraiser was Mrs. Gorham, who is a state-certified appraiser. The jury was free to believe her appraisal testimony or not. Unlike the sewer district’s appraiser, Mrs. Gorham presented an appraisal report that apparently conformed to the requirement of state law and the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP).

Why should the sewer district get a chance to do it over, putting the landowner through the expense of another trial? Perhaps, because that’s what the Gorhams asked for when they filed a motion for new trial after the jury verdict, which the trial court denied. Under Missouri’s appellate statutes, an appellate court may

award a new trial or partial new trial, reverse or affirm the judgment or order of the trial court, or give such judgment as such court ought to have given.

If the only evidence of damages was Mrs. Gorham’s testimony, it seems to me that the jury should have been bound by it and that the Gorhams shouldn’t have to go through two trials. I don’t have much expertise with appellate law; maybe someone who knows how it works can explain this situation to me.

Jerome Wallach, who is one of the Gorhams’ attorneys, told me that he was happy to have a new trial. Just as the sewer district gets another chance to try to keep the award small, the Gorhams will have an opportunity to ask for more than $29,000.

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About Harry Styron

I'm a lawyer who lives in Branson, Missouri, whose professional interests involve real estate, construction and local government.

3 responses »

  1. If the condemnor had that kind of exposure and produced no evidence of damages in accordance with the new statute, the condemnor might look at suing their attorney for malpractice if they are required to caugh up.

    They might even refer the condemnee’s appraiser, Mrs. Condemnee, to the appraisal commission for appearance of bias.

    I find it odd that if the only evidence of value was the condemnee’s $29,000, and if the judge gave proper instrictions, they must have made a very bad impression on the jury to get a zero verdict.

    Reply
    • Kelly, a quick check on casenet indicates that this is the only condemnation case that the Glaize Creek Sewer District has filed. I’m sure a lesson has been learned about obtaining proper appraisal testimony.

      As for Sheila Gorham being her own expert witness on damages, my wild guess is that the jury discounted her testimony to zero because the Gorhams didn’t obtain an independent appraisal.

      Any landowner is entitled to testify about the damage to the value of her own property when it is being taken by a governmental entity, as is any citizen. Mrs. Gorham didn’t surrender that right by becoming a state-certified appraiser. But being her own expert witness may not have been wise.

      So the sewer district and the property owner get to do it all again with new appraisals and probably new appraisers.

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