Justices rule in favor of sewer facility operator in condemnation action

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A case involving a compensation award for condemnation initiated by Fort Wayne’s Board of Public Works that may appear at first blush as a “no brainer” is actually not as simple as it seems, the Indiana Supreme Court pointed out Thursday.

At issue in Thursday’s decision in Utility Center, Inc. d/b/a Aqua Indiana, Inc. v. City of Fort Wayne, Indiana, 90S04-1208-PL-450, is the scope of judicial review when a property owner challenges the compensation awarded for condemnation of its property by a city’s board of public works under an eminent domain statute applicable to cities and towns.

Utility Center Inc. owned and operated certain water and sewer facilities in Fort Wayne. In 2002, the city’s Board of Public Works passed a resolution to condemn the facility’s north system. Utility Center challenged the condemnation, which was ultimately affirmed by the Indiana Supreme Court in 2007.

Afterward, Utility Center filed a written remonstrance with the board challenging the $16.9 million assessment of damages, which the board confirmed. Utility Center appealed to the trial court and sought a jury trial. The city moved for partial judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that the trial court was limited to a review of the record before the board. The trial court ruled in favor of the city.

I.C. 34-24-1 and -2 deal with eminent domain procedures; Chapter 2 deals with proceedings initiated by a municipal works board. The board initiated the proceedings under Chapter 2 in this case.

“At stake in this case is what does it mean to say, in the context of a Chapter 2 eminent domain proceeding, that ‘[t]he court shall rehear the matter of the assessment de novo.’ More precisely: What did the Legislature intend in this context? The City argues the trial court is limited to a review of the record before the Board. Utility Center counters the trial court’s review includes a full evidentiary hearing before a jury,” Justice Robert Rucker wrote.

“In short our courts have long held that judicial review of administrative decisions is restrained and limited, even where statutory language suggests otherwise. However, the question remains whether the Legislature intended this limited review under the facts presented here,” he continued.

Rucker pointed out that eminent domain statutes must be strictly construed as to the extent of power and the manner of its exercise. Also, the inviolability of private property has been a central tenet of American life since before the country’s founding.

“Because the determination of just compensation is a judicial rather than a legislative function, … and recognizing the extent to which protecting the ownership of private property is woven into the fabric of our jurisprudence, we are not persuaded the Legislature intended a limited role of the judiciary when declaring that an aggrieved party may ‘take an appeal’ of the compensation awarded by an administrative municipal board and that ‘[t]he court shall rehear the matter of the assessment de novo . . . .’ I.C. § 32-24-2-11(a). Rather we are convinced the opposite is true,” he wrote.

The justices concluded that “rehear the matter of the assessment de novo” contemplates a new hearing with trial and judgment as in all other civil actions, and a trial by jury where a party so requests.

The case is remanded for further proceedings.



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  1. I commend Joe for standing up to this tyrant attorney! You ask why? Well I’m one of David Steele victims. I was in desperate need of legal help to protect my child, David saw an opportunity, and he demanded I pay him $3000. Cash. As I received motions and orders from court he did nothing! After weeks of emails asking him to address the legal issues, he responded by saying he was “on vacation “and I should be so lucky to have “my attorney” reply. Finally after lie on top of lie I asked for a full refund, which he refused. He then sent me “bills” for things he never did, such as, his appearance in the case and later claimed he withdrew. He never filed one document / motion for my case! When I finally demanded he refund my money he then turn to threats which scared my family for our lives. It seem unreal we couldn’t believe this guy. I am now over $100,000 in debt digging out of the legal mess he caused my family. Later I was finally able to hire another law office. I met Joe and we worked diligently on my case. I soon learn Joe had a passion for helping people. As anyone who has been through a legal battle it is exhausting. Joe was always more than happy to help or address an issue. Joe was knowledgeable about all my concerns at the same time he was able to reduce the stress and anxieties of my case. He would stay late and come in early, he always went the extra mile to help in any way he could. I can only imagine what Joe and his family has been through, my prayers go out to him and all the victims.

  2. Steele did more than what is listed too. He purposely sought out to ruin me, calling potential employers and then lied about me alleging all kinds of things including kidnapping. None of his allegations were true. If you are in need of an ethical and very knowledgeable family law paralegal, perhaps someone could post their contact information. Ethics cannot be purchased, either your paralegal has them or they do not.

  3. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  4. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  5. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise