A short one from the Georgia Court of Appeals.
In Summerour v. City of Marietta, No. A16A0640 (July 8, 2016), the city condemned a grocery store for a recreation center. After multiple attempts to contact the property owner and multiple offers of compensation, the city and the owner finally began the negotiation process, during which Summerour asked the city to produce a summary of its appraiser's report as required by Georgia statute. The city eventually provided the summary, and its full report. They still could not agree, and the city instituted condemnation.
The court of appeals' opinion starts on a good note, reiterating that "private property rights are among 'the most basic of human rights.'" Slip op. at 7 (quoting William K. Lane III, "Your Raisins or Your Life": The Harrowing of the Takings Clause in Horne v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, 750 F.3d 1128 (9th Cir. 2014), 38 Harv. J. Law & Pub. Pol'y, 761, 761 (2015)). The court agreed with the owner that the city was required to have complied with the statute's requirement that the condemnor provide a summary of the basis for its calculation of just compensation before starting the negotiation process.
Although the city eventually provided the summary, it did not do so initially. The court (correctly, in our view) read the statutory requirement strictly, and held that the statute mandates a condemnor provide the summary "before the initiation of negotiations." Here, the city only provided the summary years after initially contacting Summerour about the acquisition of his property, and after Summerour had asked the city for it.
The court rejected the city's argument that a "summary" of the basis for its valuation only required it to tell the owner that "an appraiser has valued your property at $X," and does not require it to turn over an actual appraiser's report or summary. The city claimed that its initial attempts to contact Summerour included such language, and that was sufficient. The court said no:
Simply informing the property owner that the property has been appraised and that the amount offered is the appraised amount, while certainly concise, fails to convey the sum and substance of the basis of the offer.
Slip op. at 15. It also didn't matter that Summerour eventually got all the information the statute requires, because it should have been provided by the city at the beginning, not in the middle or at the end of the negotiations.
The court also concluded that -- given its ruling that the city didn't meet its statutory obligations -- more evidence was needed to analyze Summerour's claim that the city negotiated in bad faith. The lower court had concluded that the city acted properly, but the court of appeals held that it was not clear whether that ruling was based on the city's having complied with the statute.