COA decides eminent domain case

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In considering a common arrangement between a utility company and property developer, the Indiana Court of Appeals has given a green light for that utility to exercise eminent domain when a developer is financing a sewer line extension to a proposed housing development.

Attorneys disagree about the impact and significance of today's ruling in Wymberley Sanitary Works v. Earl L. Batliner, Jr., et al., No. 22A01-0802-CV-55, a unanimous decision in favor of the public utility doing business as Aqua Indiana. Those on the prevailing side say it reaffirms state and national caselaw and covers what is already practiced, while those on the other side describe this as a case of first impression that effectively eliminates landowner rights in condemnation actions.

That importance could ultimately be decided by the Indiana Supreme Court if appellate attorneys decide to file a transfer petition and should the justices decide to weigh in on this Floyd Circuit case that goes back to a proposed development about five years ago.

A developer in 2004 had approached Wymberley about the utility extending sewer service to its proposed subdivision, and the utility obtained regulatory permission the following year and entered into an agreement with the developer. In the meantime, the developer began negotiating with landowners for the needed right-of-way easements, but those discussions ultimately failed and four eminent domain complaints were filed against the landowners.

In December 2007, a special judge dismissed the public utility's eminent domain complaints by finding that Wymberley didn't adequately present a need for the eminent domain or the needed land, that it acted in bad faith in trying to acquire the easements, and that it wouldn't be for public use. But the Court of Appeals reversed most of the trial court conclusions, holding that the judge erred in finding that Wymberley made improper offers or acted in bad faith, that the proposed takings weren't for public use, and that there wasn't a current need for the takings.

Relying on the Supreme Court of the United States case of Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), the Indiana panel found that Wymberley's taking would not be transferring the property to a private entity but to a regulated public utility providing public service - not as far as the SCOTUS ruling had allowed.

"The court's decision is clearly in the mainstream, not on the outer edges of eminent domain authority, and proves the common practice by which developers pay for utility service connections," said Baker & Daniels attorney Jon Laramore, who represents Wymberley. "They've clearly said that sewer service is a traditional public purpose, even if there's some additional private benefit to the developer."

But Bose McKinney & Evans attorney Bryan Babb, who represents the landowners in this case, said this ruling is one of first impression on various fronts and means that property owners have no protection in condemnation actions.

"If ever we were going to provide some measure of protection, then it was this case," Babb said. "There are no protections for landowners if this ruling stands. The Supreme Court needs to decide on this, if it believes there's going to be limits on what condemning authorities can do. This is the time, because after this there are no limits."

Several groups are amicus parties in this case: Indiana Energy Association, Indiana Association of Sewer Cos., Indiana Agricultural Law Foundation, and the Institute for Justice.

Attorneys have 30 days to file a transfer petition with the Indiana Supreme Court. If that isn't done, then this ruling would be certified and classified as the final judgment on this case. Babb said no decision has been made on that move and he hadn't discussed this ruling with his clients yet. He said he will likely advise them to consider filing that petition.


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.