This one is kind of Colorado specific, but there are lessons here for the rest of us.
In Colorado Dep't of Transportation v. Amerco Real Estate Co., No. 16SA75 (Sep. 26, 2016), the Colorado Supreme Court prohibited the DOT from taking Amerco's land (leased to U-Haul) for a highway project because the transportation commission had not first determined via the process required by statute that the taking would serve the public interest.
U-Haul argued these statutes required the commission to adopt a resolution -- based on a report by the chief engineer -- to establish that the taking of this specific property would be in the public interest, and that it wasn't sufficient that these things were done for the project in general. The DOT asserted that an earlier resolution by the transportation commission gave the DOT all the power it needed, because it had delegated the power to acquire land to the DOT, and made a determination that the overall project would serve the public interest. The trial court agreed with the DOT, and put it in possession of the property.
In an original jurisdiction action, the Supreme Court disagreed. The statute in question requires the chief engineer to "make a written report to the commission" which, among other things, describes the land to be taken in some detail. The statute also requires the commission, if it agrees with the engineer's report that the property must be acquired, to adopt a finding of public interest by resolution. The court viewed these requirements plainly, and rejected the commission's argument that a narrow alternative method for taking property also set out in the statute somehow altered the commission's obligations:
The statute places squarely in the hands of this geographically representative and comparatively independent corporate body the responsibility for determining not only which of the enumerated kinds of highway projects should be approved, but also which properties need be taken for that purpose and the amount, or the method of calculating the amount, that may be paid for each of them.
Slip op. at 11.
Under this statute, the commission -- and not the DOT -- determines "the choice of which properties are to be taken, how much the state is willing to tender for a particular parcel of property, and/or whether to acquire that property at whatever cost may be determined by the statutory condemnation process." Slip op. at 12-13. That can't be delegated to the DOT. Slip op. at 13 ("Not only is the statute lacking in any express authorization to do so, but virtually the entire statutory scheme, creating and assigning specific powers and duties separately to the transportation commission, militates against a legislative intent to sanction such a delegation.").
And that earlier resolution on which the DOT relied? Not good enough because it wasn't what the statute required. Because it was a delegation by the commission to the DOT of the commission's duties, it "amounts to an abdication of the commission's statutory duty to decide which parcels it will serve the public interest or convenience to take and whether the public interest or convenience will be served only if those parcels, or any of them, can be acquired for a specific, preapproved amount." Slip op. at 14.
The lessons here for us non-Coloradans is that statutory requirements, especially in eminent domain, are just that, and should be narrowly read, and that subordinate state and municipal agencies shouldn't think they can exercise the power however they like or at all (even if they do that all the time).