COA tosses jury verdict in Kokomo land-taking case, slashes damages

A Howard Superior jury’s damages award of $305,600 plus legal fees was voided Wednesday by the Indiana Court of Appeals, which instead ordered the trial court to enter judgment of just $100,000 to owners of property in Kokomo that the city condemned.

The appellate panel voided the jury’s verdict in a case involving property that formerly housed The Kokomo Glass Shop, which was forced to relocate because of the city’s taking of the property. Bradley Newton was the sole shareholder in the glass shop, and he was also the son and personal representative of Audra Newton, whose estate the city sued to obtain the property in this case, City of Kokomo, Indiana v. Estate of Audra R. Newton, 19A-PL-1321.

The city brought the action after the estate rejected a settlement offer of $160,000. At trial, the city moved for a directed verdict at the close of evidence, arguing that because Kokomo Glass was not a named party to the suit, any damages it claimed could not be considered by the jury. Judge Brant Parry denied the motion and handed the case to the jury for its damages determination.

“We hold that the trial court erred when it denied the City’s motion for a directed verdict,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the panel. “The record is clear that the only evidence of damages presented at trial, other than the agreed-upon $100,000 for the Main Street parcel, were damages allegedly incurred by Kokomo Glass.

“The Estate’s attempt to conflate Kokomo Glass with the Estate or with Bradley is not well taken. They are not ‘one and the same’ as the Estate argued at trial,” Najam continued. “While Bradley is both the sole shareholder of Kokomo Glass and the personal representative of the Estate, only the Estate is a party to this matter, and it is a separate entity from Kokomo Glass. The Estate did not present any evidence that it had incurred damages related to the Union Street parcel, which was the sole issue before the jury.

“The City was entitled to a directed verdict awarding damages to the Estate of $100,000 for the condemnation of the Main Street parcel … .”

The panel remanded the case with instructions to enter an order with just such a judgment, and no award of litigation expenses.

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