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‘Offer’ Is Not Party Admission on Value

Deborah Elkins//March 4, 2015

‘Offer’ Is Not Party Admission on Value

Deborah Elkins//March 4, 2015

The Commissioner of Highways’ written offer to purchase rights of way on respondents’ property cannot come into evidence as a party admission at a condemnation trial, but the Hanover Circuit Court will allow a real estate appraiser to offer an expert opinion on valuation of the residue of respondents’ property after the taking.

Dennis W. Gruelle is a real estate appraiser and is expected to testify that respondents’ residue has been negatively impacted by the taking. He valued the residue at the taking at $535,898 and valued the residue after the taking at $455,513. In his opinion, the damage to respondents’ residue is in the amount of $80,385. Petitioenr argues that Gruelle has no factual support of his conclusion, and that he did not rely upon any comparable sales in the market or contracts to sell the subject property. Petitioner also alleges Gruelle has no evidence of potential income loss and instead bases his opinion of damage on a mere recitation of features of the property that will be changed as a result of the taking.

The court finds Gruelle’s expert opinion is supported by an adequate financial basis. He is a licensed, certified general real estate appraiser. He has prepared an appraisal of the subject property as of the date of the taking. In Gruelle’s opinion, the damage to respondent’s residue is $80,385. In support of his opinion, he relied upon these facts: petitioner’s taking imposed utility easements across a portion of respondents’ parking lot, encumbering at least three parking spaces; the easements created uncertainty regarding respondents’ right to use those parking spaces; respondents’ advertising sign must be relocated; and the size of the subject property as it related to future development of the property.

The court agrees with respondents that petitioner’s objections to this expert opinion go towards the weight of the opinion, not towards its admissibility. The motion to exclude the opinion is denied.

However, the court will grant petitioner’s motion in limine to exclude a pre-condemnation statement of just compensation.

Respondents argue that petitioner’s statutorily required establishment of just compensation, provided to respondents in a written statement under Va. Code § 25.2-204, is an admission by a party opponent and is therefore admissible at trial to establish the appropriate amount of just compensation.

Respondents argue that Duncan v. State Hwy Comm’n, 142 Va. 135 (1925), and Ryan v. Davis, 201 Va. 79 (1959), do not apply to these facts, and claim instead that petitioner’s statement sought to be introduced was an admission against petitoner’s interest, not an offer. This court does not agree with that characterization of the information sought. In fact, the document that contains the alleged party-opponent admission describes itself as an “offer to purchase the needed rights of way.” Because that document is an offer from petitioner to purchase respondents’ property, the relevant statute and case law inform the court that the information sought is not admissible. Motion in limine granted.

Comm’r of Highways v. Carey (Harris) No. CL 13003434-00, Feb. 20, 2015; Hanover Cir.Ct.; Francis A. Cherry Jr. for petitioner; Charles M. Lollar for respondents. VLW 015-8-019, 4 pp.

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