Lead 2010 Map Act plaintiffs, lawyer support DOT in current dispute

Traffic on Highway Source: Jacob Emmons, Carolina Journal

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  • Lead plaintiffs in a 2010 lawsuit that launched hundreds of Map Act complaints against the North Carolina Department of Transportation now support DOT in a current Map Act dispute.
  • Attorney Matthew Bryant filed paperwork Friday asking to submit a friend-of-the-court brief in the case Sanders v. NCDOT.
  • The court filing labels the state Court of Appeals' decision in Sanders as "completely out of step" with prior state Supreme Court Map Act rulings.

Plaintiffs who helped launch Map Act litigation against the North Carolina Department of Transportation back in 2010 are supporting the DOT in a current Map Act dispute. They filed paperwork Friday at the state Supreme Court to submit a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

The department filed its own Supreme Court petition on April 5 in the case Sanders v. NCDOT. It urged the high court to reverse a February ruling from the state Court of Appeals. DOT warned of potentially “calamitous” results from the Appeals Court decision.

Now Beroth Oil Company and James and Carol Deans are seeking to take part in the case.

“Beroth Oil Company and the Deans are the lead plaintiffs in the Map Act litigation (cases were filed in September 2010 (Forsyth) and September 2011 (Wake)) and are representatives of the 580 Map Act litigants in statewide Map Act litigation,” wrote attorney Matthew Bryant. “Beroth Oil and Deans inverse condemnation claims against NCDOT spun off the Kirby and Chappell cases, among other Map Act appellate decisions.”

Kirby and Chappell refer to state Supreme Court decisions in 2016 and 2020 that govern Map Act disputes between property owners and the Transportation Department.

“Beroth Oil and Deans cases spearheaded the Map Act filings in Forsyth, Guilford, Cumberland, Robeson, Wake, Cleveland, Pitt and Pender Counties,” Bryant wrote. “The Sanders decision is completely out of step with the Map Act litigation results obtained by Beroth Oil, Deans, Kirby and Chappell.”

“Sanders creates different outcomes for similarly situated owners solely based on when the lawsuit is filed,” Bryant argued. “Different outcomes for similarly situated owners implicate the very concerns Chief Justice [Paul] Newby expressed in his dissent in Beroth Oil Company v. NCDOT,” a 2014 Map Act case.

In its April 5 petition. DOT warned that the challenged Sanders ruling could generate 1,600 new lawsuits and push state taxpayers’ total Map Act bill over $1 billion.

The Map Act, repealed in 2019, allowed DOT to block any development of private property within designated highway corridors.

“The present case is based on a claim for inverse condemnation under the Map Act by a landowner who asserted his claim nearly ten years after DOT condemned his property for the highway project and paid him almost fifteen million dollars ($15,000,000) in just compensation,” DOT lawyers wrote. “The Court of Appeals’ decision affirms a trial court order permitting the landowner to sustain a Map Act claim for additional compensation for the portion of his property DOT did not take in fee simple and to receive the rental value of his property for the duration of the Map Act taking as damages.”

The Appeals Court ruling “conflicts” with the state Supreme Court’s prior Map Act decisions, according to the DOT. “Specifically, it undermines the established law of the Map Act because it allows the landowner to seek a different measure of damages based on a different conception of the nature and duration of the taking established by this Court,” according to the petition.

“In addition, it undermines how our eminent domain statutes and our law governing consent judgments prevent landowners who have been paid just compensation from using inverse condemnation to seek additional money for damages they should have raised during the condemnation proceeding. The practical effects of the decision will be calamitous,” DOT lawyers argued.

The challenged Appeals Court ruling “opens the door to over one thousand new Map Act claims at precisely the moment when DOT has settled all but a few remaining Map Act claims,” according to the petition.

Since the state Supreme Court’s first Map Act ruling in 2016, DOT and landowners have finalized about 700 Map Act cases. DOT has spent more than $763 million in just compensation. About 25 Map Act cases remain active, according to DOT’s court filing.

“The Court of Appeals’ decision here threatens to undo DOT’s progress in resolving the Map Act litigation,” the department’s lawyers argued. “One aspect of the Court of Appeals’ decision would permit landowners whom DOT has already paid just compensation for a condemnation of their property to assert Map Act claims for additional compensation years, and in some cases decades, after the entry of a condemnation consent judgment.”

DOT estimates that the Appeals Court ruling could create 1,198 new Map Act cases in Forsyth and Guilford counties, along with 465 new cases in Cumberland County. “These new cases could carry the overall cost of the Map Act litigation well over one billion dollars ($1,000,000,000) and require an additional decade to resolve.”

The Appeals Court ruling treated the impact of a Map Act taking differently than the way the state Supreme Court has addressed the issue in the past, DOT argued. The change has an impact on the amount of damages a landowner could seek.

“The combined consequences of the Court of Appeals’ decision – its creation of potentially thousands of new Map Act cases and its recognition of a new measure of damages that will cause the cost of each case to skyrocket – will incentivize more Map Act claims from landowners who settled their claims years, and in some cases, decades ago,” DOT lawyers warned.

In the current case, Sanders v. NCDOT, a landowner who was paid $15 million in 2011 for more than 101 acres might seek a higher sum for an additional 28 acres, DOT lawyers argued. “Such a result is manifestly unjust to North Carolina’s taxpayers and the hundreds of landowners who litigated or settled their claims in good faith reliance on this Court’s prior guidance,” the petition argued. “Ultimately, these consequences will be based on nothing more than the Court of Appeals’ misunderstanding of this Court’s prior decisions and its misapplication of the law of eminent domain.”

DOT targets an unpublished Feb. 6 Appeals Court opinion. A unanimous three-judge panel upheld a Cumberland County trial judge’s decision to allow a property owner to move forward with Map Act claims.