Here's the amicus brief, filed yesterday by Pacific Legal Foundation is support of the cert petition we filed last month which asks the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision of the Mississippi Supreme Court.
First, some background. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed “Toll Project No. 1,” the U.S. Highway 90 crossing of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The bridge had been partially built on Petitioner Bay Point's property pursuant to a highway-purpose easement granted to the State in 1952 by Bay Point’s predecessor-in-title. After the hurricane, the Mississippi Transportation Commission removed what was left of the bridge. The destruction of the bridge and the removal of the remnants discontinued the specific use authorized by the easement, and Bay Point should have immediately recovered unencumbered possession. Instead, MTC built an entirely new bridge in a different location, and converted the majority of the former highway easement into a public recreational park.
Bay Point sued for inverse condemnation, and the jury determined MTC’s new uses were not highway purposes within the 1952 easement, and MTC had taken Bay Point's property.
But a Mississippi statute (Miss. Code. Ann. § 65-1-123 (Rev. 2012)) compelled the jury to value the land as if it continued to be burdened by the highway-purpose easement the jury had determined MTC no longer used for its original highway purpose. The statute deems a highway-purpose easement to continue in perpetuity unless formally released by MTC, even when it no longer actually uses the easement for highway purposes. The court instructed the jury to calculate compensation as if Bay Point’s land was subject to a highway-purpose easement in both its “before” and “after” condition. The jury was also instructed to award a nominal $500, not the $16 million the property was concededly worth.
Over a two-Justice dissent, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. The statute, not the Just Compensation Clause, controlled the amount Bay Point received for the permanent physical occupation of its land.
PLF's amicus brief argues:Bay Point Properties’ petition for a writ of certiorari raises an important issue concerning the protections provided by the Just Compensation Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the petition asks whether a state legislature can lawfully enact a statute that limits the amount of money an owner of a condemned property can recover as just compensation. It cannot.
The Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision is particularly objectionable—and particularly appropriate for review—because it departs from this Court’s just compensation precedents by allowing the legislature to interfere with the role of the fact-finder by enacting legislation that significantly limits the amount of money that can be awarded in a condemnation case. As set out in the petition, the jury below determined that the Mississippi Transportation Commission had taken Bay Point’s property when the Commission converted an old, disused highway easement into a public park. Petition at 4-6. Although the land was valued between $8-$16 million, a state statute (Mississippi Code § 65-1-123) capped compensation at $500—the purported value of the sliver of land that was not encumbered by the highway easement. Petition at 7-9. The trial court accordingly instructed the jury to limit its award to the amount allowed by the statute, effectively giving the Commission millions of dollars of land for a pittance. Id. at 10.
Br. at 2-3.
There will be more, so stay tuned. The Brief in Opposition is due May 8, 2017.