Is it too late to discuss a case from 2009?  Nah.  Especially if the court released the opinion within the past two months.  And according to the decision in Shelby County v. Crews (pdf), there are times when it may be too late to withdraw a condemnation petition. That line in the sand appears to be the date after the public entity takes legal possession.

Time Limits on Condemnation Proceedings

In Shelby County, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee recently held that the County was precluded from backing out of condemnation proceedings too late in the game. The County had possession of a small strip of land owned by the Crews. The County used the land as a parking area for a nearby penal farm and had gone as far as to pave the property. In the summer of 2004, the County filed a Petition for Condemnation of the strip of land pursuant to the condemnation statutes. The County offered approximately $40,000 as to the amount of compensation for the family land owners. The family did not contest the County’s right to acquire the property, but disputed the amount of compensation it should receive for the land. Thereafter, the trial court entered a Consent Order that granted “all property rights and ownership in fee simple” in the property to the County. The trial court scheduled a trial on the issue of compensation for a later date.

One week prior to the scheduled trial date, the County filed a Notice of Non-Suit, which is a document that gives notice of a voluntary dismissal of the condemnation proceedings.  The Crews filed an objection to the non-suit order, arguing that the County was not entitled to dismiss the case because it took possession of the property. The issue before the court was whether the County was entitled to voluntarily dismiss the condemnation after it took possession of the property.

In a short five-page opinion, the court held that the County was precluded from voluntarily dismissing the condemnation proceedings after it had acquired ownership and legal right to possession, leaving only the issue of compensation to be decided.

While this issue may seem like a no-brainer to you, the case is important because it establishes a limitation on a public entity’s power to condemn property.  The public entity can no longer take possession of the property and later "back out" of the deal if compensation looks to fall in favor of the private owner.

Photo: Flickr | ToniVC