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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. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

  2. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

  3. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  4. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  5. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

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