News: Quick Takes

Superior Court Judge sanctions N.C. DOT for missing deadline for MAP ACT property appraisals

Forsyth Superior Court Judge John O. Craig III issued a July 6 sanction penalizing the N.C. Department of Transportation for missing a May 28 deadline for appraising Winston-Salem properties affected by the Map Act.

The department was supposed to submit 191 appraisals by May 28, but a substantial number were either submitted after the deadline or aren’t completed. The court believes about 100 appraisals have yet to be submitted to the plaintiffs’ counsel and estimates about 150 deposits remain unsatisfied.

Under the 1987 Map Act, the N.C. DOT was able to prevent properties in the path of roadways from developing without officially taking and paying for the land. Property owners in Winston-Salem turned to the court to make the state buy their properties and pay them interest from the time the lands were designated as within the protected corridor of future roadways.

The issue made it all the way to the N.C. Supreme Court, and in June 2016 the state Supreme Court ruled N.C. DOT did take landowners’ property and thus had to pay. But the court didn’t specify what kind of taking had occurred, which is necessary in determining how much N.C. DOT owed property owners.

Following a dismissal of an N.C. DOT appeal, Forsyth County Superior Court issued an order Nov. 28, 2017 outlining a six-month timeline for N.C. DOT to begin appraisals and make deposits by the end of May. N.C. DOT missed the deadline, leading plaintiffs in the Forsyth Map Act case to file a motion requesting sanctions.

Craig’s sanctions order forbids the department from using the late appraisals in future court hearings, as well as all expert testimony from appraisers concerning these appraisals.

The judge chastised N.C. DOT for failing to inform the court the department wouldn’t be able to meet the deadline and for only filing a motion for an extension three weeks after the deadline had passed.

The sanctions order also said N.C. DOT didn’t keep track of the appraisals and almost immediately fell behind on schedule, in part because the department failed to retain enough appraisers to handle the caseload. Furthermore, no one at N.C. DOT was given the role of supervising compliance with the court order.

“No one sounded the alarm that delays were occurring,” the sanctions order reads.

Matthew Bryant, a Winston-Salem attorney representing hundreds of property owners in the Map Act lawsuits, said they still stand ready to deal fairly with the transportation department, despite the delays.

“While the sanctions order is a strong reaction by the trial court to N.C. DOT’s approach to the Map Act litigation, the order itself does not change our goal to get owners just and fairly paid nor lessen our reliance on the legal rights we have won,” Bryant said. “We trust N.C. DOT now shares that goal.”

Jamie Kritzer, assistant director of communications at N.C. DOT, sent the following in an emailed statement:

“We have reviewed Judge Craig’s ruling and are identifying processes and improvements to fix the deficiencies he identified. We will accelerate and focus our efforts in resolving these cases fairly and expeditiously.”