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ADA County Highway District v. Brooke View, Inc.

Supreme Court of Idaho

May 23, 2017

ADA COUNTY HIGHWAY DISTRICT, a body politic corporate of the State of Idaho, Plaintiff-Appellant,
BROOKE VIEW, INC. dba THE SENATOR, INC., an Idaho corporation, Defendant-Respondent, and BENCH SEWER DISTRICT; JOE J. HON AND WILLIAM A. HON dba FRANKLIN WATER COMPANY; OVERLAND WATER COMPANY, an Idaho company; TILLIE MAE SAXTON, a widow; VINCENT LEE HUMPHREYS and ESTHER C. HUMPHREYS, husband and wife; KENNETH RICHARDSON and EFFIE R. RICHARDSON; and all unknown lessees and tenants in possession of any or all of the property which is subject to this action, and any other person or entity, who has or may have an interest in and to the property which is subject of this action, referenced for convenience by the fictitious designations of DOES 1 THROUGH 10, Defendants.

         2017 Opinion No. 47

         Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Cheri C. Copsey, District Judge.

         The judgment of the district court, as well as the award of attorney fees and costs are vacated. This case is remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this Opinion. Costs on appeal are awarded to ACHD.

          Holland & Hart, LLP, Boise, and Jones Gledhill Fuhrman Gourley, P.A., Boise, attorneys for appellant. Mary V. York argued.

          Davison, Copple, Copple & Copple, Boise, attorneys for respondent. Heather Cunningham argued.

          JONES, Justice.

         I. Nature of the Case

         In a case arising out of Ada County, the Ada County Highway District ("ACHD") appeals a district court judgment awarding $148, 390.21 plus prejudgment interest and attorney's fees to Brooke View, Inc. d/b/a The Senator ("Brooke View") as just compensation for a parcel of property that ACHD condemned and took possession of under the State's eminent domain powers. ACHD argues on appeal that the district court misconstrued the law when it allowed Brooke View to recover the cost to repair damage to a wall on Brooke View's property, which the jury found had been caused by the construction of improvements on the taken parcel.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         Respondent, Brooke View, is an Idaho corporation that owns an undivided interest in certain property located at 421 South Curtis Road in Boise, Idaho (the "Property"). The Property, which is approximately 20 acres, is the site of a housing development for senior residents. The development sits behind a serpentine concrete block entrance wall (the "Wall"), which is covered in stucco on one side and an intricate pattern of decorative brick on the other.

         In early 2012, ACHD embarked on Project No. 809028, also known as the Safe Routes to School project (the "Project"). The goal of the Project was to design and build sidewalks and walkways in order to provide students with safe walking routes to and from nearby schools. The improvements undertaken as part of the Project included not only the installation of sidewalks, but also the construction of a storm drainage system which included digging an "infiltration trench." The infiltration trench is five to six feet wide and eleven to twelve feet deep. It is located approximately six feet from the Wall.

         On March 1, 2012, ACHD offered Brooke View $7, 738.47 (which it later increased to $8, 512.32) as just compensation for a 1, 425 square foot section of the Property (the "Taken Property"), which was needed to complete the Project. Brooke View rejected the offer.

         On April 30, 2012, Dianne Miller ("Miller"), the president and owner of Brooke View, contacted ACHD to express concern that the Project could cause damage to the Wall and the surrounding landscaping. After meeting with Miller, ACHD's project manager, engineer, and right-of-way specialist determined that the Project would not damage the portion of the Property not required to complete the Project (the "Remaining Property). It does not appear that ACHD ever investigated the possibility of damage to the Wall beyond this preliminary assessment.

         On June 20, 2012, ACHD issued an order of condemnation with respect to the Taken Property.[1] By that issuance, ACHD sought to exercise its power of eminent domain under Idaho Code section 7-701 to acquire a fee simple interest in the Taken Property as well as a temporary construction easement on an additional 2, 706 square feet of the Remaining Property. While the Wall itself was not condemned, the temporary easement included a significant portion of the Wall. On July 11, 2012, ACHD filed a complaint with the Ada County district court seeking to effectuate its order of condemnation. On August 7, 2012, the parties stipulated to allow ACHD to take possession of the Taken Property. On August 23, 2012, the district court entered an Order for Possession of Real Property effectuating the stipulation.

         In October, 2012, ACHD began construction. On November 1, 2012, a resident on the Remaining Property discovered a crack in the Wall and notified Miller. Thereafter, Miller located multiple cracks in the Wall. Following the discovery of these damages, the focus of the litigation shifted from the value of the Taken Property to the cause of the damage to the Wall and whether the cost of repairing that damage could legally be recovered as part of just compensation.

         On August 8, 2013, ACHD filed a motion for summary judgment in which it asserted that physical damage occurring during construction is not part of just compensation, and instead must be pursued in tort. The motion was denied.

         On October 3, 2013, ACHD filed another motion for summary judgment as well as a motion for reconsideration of its prior motion for summary judgment. It filed a single memorandum in support of both motions, in which it again argued, inter alia, that any theory that Brooke View had for damage to the Wall caused during construction was compensable only in tort. On December 2, 2013, the district court denied both motions. It stated in its denial of ACHD's third motion for summary judgment that:

[T]he Defendant, Brooke View, Inc.'s assertion that ACHD's "Safe Route to School" project of Curtis Road . . . caused physical damage to the entrance way walls on the remaining Brooke View property, via underground water trespass, vibration, or taking of lateral support, are encompassed within and a part of the ACHD eminent domain claim and no counterclaim or affirmative defense must be pled by the defendant, Brooke View, Inc. to assert the same.

         The district court further held that:

[T]he Defendant, Brooke View, Inc. is not required to prove the specific mechanism of how the Brooke View entrance way walls were allegedly physically damaged, but rather simply that construction of the improvement in the manner proposed by the Plaintiff pursuant to the Project was the cause of the alleged physical damage; and … No evidence of negligent or defective construction of the Project, or deviation from how the Project was proposed to be constructed, will be permitted at the trial absent a counterclaim by Brooke View, Inc. as to the same.

         On December 15, 2014, ACHD filed another motion for partial summary judgment or, in the alternative, motion in limine. In its memorandum in support, ACHD argued, inter alia, that "Brooke View cannot meet its burden of proof as to proximate cause." ACHD further argued that it had immunity for any damages caused to Brooke View under the Tort Claims Act (Idaho Code section 6-904(7)). On February 26, 2015, the district court denied ACHD's motion. In its order, the district court reasoned that "[t]his is a constitutional claim, not a tort claim, and tort principles do not apply. The defendant has to prove damages were caused, but they do not have to prove proximate cause of the mechanism of damage." The district court further held that because any damages caused during construction implicated a constitutional claim rather than a tort claim, Idaho Code section 6-904 (the "Tort Claims Act") was inapplicable.

         On April 6, 2015, the parties went to trial. Over the course of the trial the district court repeatedly reemphasized that: (1) damages caused during construction were part of just compensation; and (2) there was no tort claim at issue, and accordingly, tort issues were not relevant. Despite multiple admonitions from the district court, ACHD maintained its position that damages caused during construction were not compensable during a condemnation action. ACHD did not submit any evidence in support of any valuation; instead conceding that Brooke View was entitled to just compensation in the amount of $8, 512.32.

         On April 23, 2015, the jury unanimously returned a verdict in the amount of $146, 291.68. This number was reached by adding the fair market value of the Taken Property ($3, 915.18), the fair market value of the temporary easement ($676.50), the value of improvements taken ($700.00), and the value of the cost to cure the damage caused to the Wall ($141, 000.00).

         On June 12, 2015, the district court entered a judgment on the verdict in the amount of $148, 390.21 and prejudgment interest of $48, 792.66. On August 27, 2015, the district court granted Brooke View's motion for attorney's fees and costs, awarding $744, 243.56 in attorney's fees, $44, 051.46 in non-discretionary costs, and $365, 703.63 in discretionary costs.

         III. Issues on Appeal

         1. Did the district court err when it included recovery for physical damages to the Wall as part of just compensation for the Taken Property?

         2. Did the district court err in its jury instructions?

         3. Did the district court err in admitting testimony and other evidence of events, activities, and damages that occurred during the construction of improvements on the Taken Property?

         4. Did the district court err in awarding Brooke View attorney's fees, costs as a matter of right, and discretionary costs?

         IV. Standard of Review

We exercise free review over statutory interpretation because it is a question of law. State v. Dunlap, 155 Idaho 345, 361, 313 P.3d 1, 17 (2013). Our objective when interpreting a statute is "to derive the intent of the legislative body that adopted the act." Id. (quoting State v. Schulz, 151 Idaho 863, 866, 264 P.3d 970, 973 (2011)). Statutory interpretation begins with the statute's plain language. Dunlap, 155 Idaho at 361, 313 P.3d at 17. This Court considers the statute as a whole, and gives words their plain, usual, and ordinary meanings. When the statute's language is unambiguous, the legislature's clearly expressed intent must be given effect, and we do not need to go beyond the statute's plain language to consider other rules of statutory construction. Id. at 361-62, 313 P.3d at 17-18.

State v. Leary, 160 Idaho 349, 352, 372 P.3d 404, 407 (2016) (quoting State v. Owens, 158 Idaho 1, 3, 343 P.3d 30, 32 (2015)).

If the words of the statute are subject to more than one meaning, it is ambiguous and this Court must construe the statute "to mean what the legislature intended it to mean. To determine that intent, [this Court] examine[s] not only the literal words of the statute, but also the reasonableness of proposed ...

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