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State ex rel Winder v. Canyon Vista Family Limited Partnership

March 17, 2010


Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Twin Falls County. Hon. Nathan W. Higer, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Horton, Justice

2010 Opinion No. 26

The decision of the district court is affirmed.

This is a condemnation case. The State of Idaho (the State) appeals the district court's decision to permit the jury to decide issues concerning rights of access from the condemned property and the court's decision to admit the Idaho Transportation Department's (ITD's) order of condemnation into evidence. The State also challenges certain jury instructions and the court's decision to award the condemnee, Canyon Vista Family Limited Partnership (Canyon), attorney fees. Canyon has moved to dismiss the State's appeal as moot and seeks attorney fees on appeal. We deny Canyon's motion to dismiss. However, we affirm the judgment and award Canyon attorney fees on appeal.


The State, acting through ITD, initiated a condemnation action against Canyon on December 28, 2004, in order to take a strip of Canyon's property for the purpose of widening Poleline Road in the city of Twin Falls (the City). The initial complaint was amended by stipulation, and the resulting first amended complaint sought condemnation of all access rights to Poleline Road other than those shown on the project plans. An order of condemnation entered by ITD on November 8, 2004, also provided that all access rights to Poleline Road other than those shown on the project plans would be extinguished.

The jury awarded Canyon $399,633 as compensation for the real property taken by the State and $2,021,897 in severance damages. The trial court entered a judgment on the verdict and ordered the State to pay the amount of the judgment within 30 days pursuant to I.C. § 7-714. Following a hearing on attorney fees and costs, the district court entered a supplemental judgment on the verdict awarding Canyon $903,096.77 in attorney fees and costs. The State appeals the district court's decision to allow the jury to determine issues of access and its decision to allow the order of condemnation into evidence. The State's appeal also challenges several of the court's jury instructions and its decision to award Canyon attorney fees. Canyon requests attorney fees on appeal.

Simultaneous to bringing this appeal, the State tendered payment of the judgment below to Canyon, purportedly pursuant to I.C. § 7-717, in order to retain possession of the land during these appellate proceedings. Canyon subsequently moved this Court to dismiss the State's appeal with prejudice, claiming that payment of the judgment rendered the appeal moot. This Court issued an order setting the motion to dismiss for oral argument at the same time as oral argument on the merits.


―This Court exercises free review over questions of law.‖ Downey Chiropractic Clinic v. Nampa Restaurant Corp., 127 Idaho 283, 285, 900 P.2d 191, 193 (1995). We review a trial court's decision to admit evidence for abuse of discretion. State v. Field, 144 Idaho 559, 564, 165 P.3d 273, 278 (2007) (citing State v. Robinett, 141 Idaho 110, 112, 106 P.3d 436, 438 (2005)). In this review, we examine whether: (1) the trial court correctly perceived the issue as discretionary; (2) the trial court acted within the outer bounds of its discretion and with applicable legal standards; and (3) the trial court reached its decision through an exercise of reason. Sun Valley Shopping Ctr., Inc. v. Idaho Power Co., 119 Idaho 87, 94, 803 P.2d 993, 1000 (1991) (citing State v. Hedger, 115 Idaho 598, 600, 768 P.2d 1331, 1333 (1989)). We exercise free review over the propriety of the trial court's jury instructions. Puckett v. Verska, 144 Idaho 161, 167, 158 P.3d 937, 943 (2007) (citations omitted).


We first consider Canyon's motion to dismiss this appeal. We next address the State's argument that the trial court, rather than the jury, should have determined the issue of access rights. We then turn to the trial court's decision to admit the order of condemnation and the State's objections to the trial court's jury instructions. Finally, we address the district court's award of attorney fees and Canyon's request for attorney fees on appeal.

A. Canyon's Motion to Dismiss this Appeal is Denied

Canyon has moved to dismiss the State's appeal because the State paid all amounts due pursuant to the judgment prior to filing its notice of appeal. Because the judgment has been fully satisfied, Canyon argues, the State's appeal is moot. The State counters that, while the process was truncated, ITD clearly conditioned negotiation of its check in satisfaction of the judgment on Canyon's consent to the procedure outlined in I.C. § 7-717, which allows the State to maintain possession of the condemned property while simultaneously pursuing an appeal. We agree.

At the conclusion of the trial in this matter, the district court ordered that ITD pay Canyon the amount of the judgment pursuant to I.C. § 7-714, which states that ―[t]he plaintiff must, within thirty (30) days after final judgment, pay the sum of money assessed . . . .‖ There is no question that ITD had to pay Canyon. There is also no question that if ITD wished to appeal while maintaining possession of the condemned property (initially gained through stipulation of the parties), it had to pay Canyon. This is because the Idaho Constitution states in relevant part that ―[p]rivate property may be taken for public use, but not until a just compensation, to be ascertained in the manner prescribed by law, shall be paid therefor.‖ IDAHO CONST. art. I, § 14.

More specifically, ―[t]he taking of possession of the land sought to be condemned under an order for possession prior to final determination of the cause, is such a taking as requires the prior payment of just compensation.‖ Yellowstone Pipe Line Co. v. Drummond, 77 Idaho 36, 43, 287 P.2d 288, 292-93 (1955) (citations omitted).

Idaho Code § 7-717 defines ―just compensation‖ and the manner in which it should be paid in order to allow a plaintiff in the State's position to continue in possession of condemned property pending an appeal:

At any time after trial and judgment entered, or pending an appeal from the judgment to the Supreme Court, whenever the plaintiffs shall have paid into the court for the defendant the full amount of the judgment, and such further sum as shall be required by the court as a fund to pay any further damages and costs that may be recovered in said proceedings, as well as all damages that may be sustained by the defendant, if for any cause the property shall not be finally taken for public use, the district court in which the proceeding was tried may, upon notice of not less than ten (10) days, authorize the plaintiff, if already in possession, to continue therein, and if not, to take possession of and use the property during the conclusion of the litigation, and may, if necessary, stay all actions and proceedings against the plaintiff on account thereof.

The defendant who is entitled to the money paid into court for him upon any judgment, shall be entitled to demand and receive the same at any time thereafter, upon obtaining an order therefor from the court. It shall be the duty of the court, or the judge thereof, upon application being made by such defendant, to order and direct that the money so paid into court for him, be delivered to him upon his filing a satisfaction of the judgment, or upon his filing a receipt therefor, and an abandonment of all defenses to the action or proceeding, except as to the amount of damages that he may be entitled to in the event that a new trial shall be granted. A payment to a defendant as aforesaid shall be held to [be] an abandonment by such defendant of all defenses interposed by him, excepting his claim for greater compensation.

After trial, ITD sent a check directly to Canyon's attorney with a letter specifying that the State wished ―to make clear that this check is tendered pursuant to I.C. § 7-717, without the added procedure of disbursing the funds through the court.‖ The letter also informed Canyon of the State's intention to appeal the verdict and judgment. Finally, the letter explained that the State ―will consider [Canyon's] tendering of the check as consent to this abbreviated procedure.‖

While we do not encourage disregard for the statute's direction that a condemnor should pay the judgment into the court, rather than directly to the condemnee, we agree that Canyon brought the transaction within the ambit of the statute when it accepted ITD's check. Therefore, the question we must consider is whether, by satisfying the judgment and paying Canyon pursuant to I.C. § 7-717, the State mooted its appeal.

―Mootness . . . applies when a favorable judicial decision would not result in any relief. This Court may only review cases in which a judicial determination will have a practical effect on the outcome.‖ Fenn v. Noah, 142 Idaho 775, 779, 133 P.3d 1240, 1244 (2006). In this case, whether a favorable judicial decision would result in any relief depends on our interpretation of I.C. § 7-717. ―The interpretation of a statute is a question of law over which this Court exercises free review.‖ Carrier v. Lake Pend Oreille School Dist., 142 Idaho 804, 807, 134 P.3d 655, 658 (2006). If we were to find that the jury rendered a verdict in excess of just compensation and thus ordered Canyon to refund to the State any funds in excess of that amount, this appeal would not be moot, because our judicial determination would have a practical effect on the outcome- the State would recover some of its money.

Idaho Code § 7-717 does not expressly provide for this possibility nor does the statute preclude it. The statute simply does not address appeals at all. Idaho Code § 7-721, which requires a plaintiff seeking to take possession of condemned land prior to trial to pay a judicially determined amount of just compensation, provides that if the judgment and award at trial is less than that judicially determined amount paid by the plaintiff, the defendant must remit to the plaintiff any excess funds. It is not illogical to read I.C. § 7-717 as implying similar relief in a case where the plaintiff prevails on appeal. This interpretation is in keeping with the general trend among courts to permit an appeal despite satisfaction of the judgment in eminent domain cases. 6A NICHOLS ON EMINENT DOMAIN § 26E.03[3][6] (2007); see also State v. Jay Six Cattle Co., Inc., 335 P.2d 799 (Ariz. 1959) (holding that although an Arizona statute very similar to I.C. § 7-717 did not explicitly provide for recovery by the state from the condemnee of any amount deemed excessive upon appeal, recovery would be appropriate as the condemnee was only entitled to just compensation, not excessive compensation, and the appeal was therefore not moot). For these reasons, we deny Canyon's motion to dismiss the State's appeal.

B. The State's Argument that the Trial Court, Rather than the Jury, Should have Decided the Scope of Access Rights Taken was not Preserved for Appeal

The State urges that the trial court erred by not determining the scope of access rights, if any, that were condemned and instructing the jury accordingly. It is probably true that the trial court committed legal error. See Rueth v. State, 100 Idaho 203, 222-23, 596 P.2d 75, 94-95 (1978) (holding that in eminent domain proceedings, all issues other than just compensation, including an accurate description of the property taken, are for resolution by the trial court and not the jury); and also Ada County Highway Dist. v. Sharp, 135 Idaho 888, 892, 26 P.3d 1225, 1229 (Ct. App. 2001) (holding that trial courts are expected to define the scope of a take where access rights are at issue). The State, however, failed to raise this issue below, and it is thus not preserved for review on appeal. Viveros v. State Dept. of Health and Welfare, 126 Idaho 714, 716, 889 P.2d 1104, 1106 (1995) (holding that issues presented for the first time on appeal will not be considered).

The State contends that the issue was presented to the district court by way of its motion to bifurcate proceedings. Prior to trial, the State filed a motion to bifurcate the proceedings ―so that the scope of the taking issues can be tried and resolved by the Court prior to the presentation of the issue of just compensation to the jury.‖ In its brief in support of that motion, however, the State did not indicate that it was seeking to have the trial court resolve the question of the scope of access rights that were being taken. Rather, the motion arose from a disagreement between the State and Canyon as to the scope of the full parcel before the taking. The State took the position that the full parcel was comprised of four adjacent pieces of property because the same four people owned the parcels by way of different legal entities. Canyon took the position that the full ...

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