A short one from the Oregon Court of Appeals. The end result in Beaverton School Dist. 48J v. Ward, No. 441 (Sep. 14, 2016) was that the property owners in a condemnation case had their request for attorneys fees cut by more than half by the trial court, a result the Court of Appeals affirmed because the owners' arguments regarding the date of the appraisal were not objectively reasonable. Simple enough, but there are a lot of layers in this one.
In a taking by the school district, the parties had a big disagreement on value. The district was in the neighborhood of $3 million, while the owners sought $9 million. The owners' valued the property on the anticipated date of trial, while the district used the date it had filed the complaint. The court granted the district's motion in limine, prohibiting the owners from introducing valuation of the property on any date other than the date of the complaint.
The owners didn't have any other valuation, so that's probably why they soon accepted an offer of compromise for $600k more than the district's claimed valuation, which the district had earlier made to which the owners had not responded. The case having been settled, the trial court entered judgment, after which the owners sought $270k in attorneys fees and costs, as permitted by Oregon law.
The district agreed they were entitled to fees and costs, but disputed the amount. An Oregon statute sets out a list of factors for trial courts to consider in fee requests, and one of those factors is "[t]he objective reasonableness of the claims and defenses asserted by the parties." The district asserted -- and the trial court agreed -- that the owners' argument to a trial date valuation did not qualify. Moreover, the owners ultimately settled for "the same exact amount that was previously offered and rejected." The court cut their fees down to $107k, and the owners appealed.
The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the trial court had not abused its discretion when it reduced the amount of fees and costs.
First, the court relied on existing Oregon law, holding that it is very clear that the date of valuation is the date of the complaint, not the date of trial. Slip op. at 83.
Second, the court rejected the owners' argument that the Fifth Amendment required the trial court to allow evidence of the value of the property on the date of trial. "We are unaware, however, of any authority, and the Wards do not point to any, applying the federal procedure in Kirby [v.Forest Industries v. United States, 567 U.S. 1 (1984)] to Oregon's condemnation statutes or Oregon's constitutional law. The statutory process and rules of procedure for a federal taking does not make reasonable defendants' arguments concerning a taking by an Oregon entity." Slip op. at 84.