NCDOT predicts ‘calamitous’ results of recent Map Act ruling

Traffic on Highway Source: Jacob Emmons, Carolina Journal

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  • The North Carolina Department of Transportation warns about "calamitous" results if a state Court of Appeals decision stands in a recent Map Act case.
  • After settling roughly 700 Map Act cases and spending $763 million in compensation, DOT estimates the recent ruling could pave the way for 1,600 new lawsuits that would push the total price tag over $1 billion.
  • DOT lawyers filed a petition Friday asking the state Supreme Court to take the case. DOT argues that the Appeals Court ruling conflicts with Supreme Court precedents.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is asking the state’s highest court to take up a recent Map Act case. DOT argues that a lower court ruling could lead to “calamitous” results if it’s allowed to stand. The challenged 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The Map Act, repealed in 2019, allowed DOT to block any development of private property within designated highway corridors.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 transportation department filed a petition Friday with the North Carolina Supreme Court. It arrived roughly two weeks after the state Court of Appeals declined to rehear the case.

“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.