Lowball Watch — South Dakota

The Rapid City Journal reports an inverse condemnation case in which the road salting practices of the city killed 42 trees on the owners’ land. When they sued in inverse condemnation, the court awarded $126,530 as compensation, as against a city offer of $5000. But even the city’s appraiser testified that it would cost $14,500 just to remove the dead trees.

However, the court denied attorneys’ fees even though a state statute provides that where an award exceeds the offer by 20% they are to be awarded. The court’s reasoning was that the statute applies only to direct eminent domain cases, not to inverse condemnation. Which by our lights is perverse. By this court’s reasoning, a government entity that follows the law and files a proper eminent domain action to take a necessary property interest in the owner’s land, but underestimates the value, has to pay attorney fees when it lowballs him. But a government agency that violates the law and just inflicts damage for which it refuses to pay (or only offers to pay a trivial amount that even its own appraiser won’t buy) gets rewarded by not having to pay the damaged owner’s litigation expenses. Weird.

The reported story is Emilie Rush, Judge Denies Request for Attorneys Fees in Tree Case,  Rapid City Journal, November 11, 2011 – click here.