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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. Bob Leonard killed two people named Jennifer and Dion Longworth. There were no Smiths involved.

  2. Being on this journey from the beginning has convinced me the justice system really doesn't care about the welfare of the child. The trial court judge knew the child belonged with the mother. The father having total disregard for the rules of the court. Not only did this cost the mother and child valuable time together but thousands in legal fees. When the child was with the father the mother paid her child support. When the child was finally with the right parent somehow the father got away without having to pay one penny of child support. He had to be in control. Since he withheld all information regarding the child's welfare he put her in harms way. Mother took the child to the doctor when she got sick and was totally embarrassed she knew nothing regarding the medical information especially the allergies, The mother texted the father (from the doctors office) and he replied call his attorney. To me this doesn't seem like a concerned father. Seeing the child upset when she had to go back to the father. What upset me the most was finding out the child sleeps with him. Sometimes in the nude. Maybe I don't understand all the rules of the law but I thought this was also morally wrong. A concerned parent would allow the child to finish the school year. Say goodbye to her friends. It saddens me to know the child will not have contact with the sisters, aunts, uncles and the 87 year old grandfather. He didn't allow it before. Only the mother is allowed to talk to the child. I don't think now will be any different. I hope the decision the courts made would've been the same one if this was a member of their family. Someday this child will end up in therapy if allowed to remain with the father.

  3. Ok attorney Straw ... if that be a good idea ... And I am not saying it is ... but if it were ... would that be ripe prior to her suffering an embarrassing remand from the Seventh? Seems more than a tad premature here soldier. One putting on the armor should not boast liked one taking it off.

  4. The judge thinks that she is so cute to deny jurisdiction, but without jurisdiction, she loses her immunity. She did not give me any due process hearing or any discovery, like the Middlesex case provided for that lawyer. Because she has refused to protect me and she has no immunity because she rejected jurisdiction, I am now suing her in her district.

  5. Sam Bradbury was never a resident of Lafayette he lived in rural Tippecanoe County, Thats an error.

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