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Court upholds ruling on Hutchinson Lane
Wednesday, May 01, 2013 11:00 AM
The Indiana Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a decision to dismiss eminent domain proceedings without prejudice on a Hutchinson Lane property, opening the door for the City of Madison to restart the process.
In 2011, Madison and Jefferson County entered into an inter-local agreement to give the city the ability to acquire land on Hutchinson Lane to widen the road.
Prior to the agreement being finalized, the city offered John Hutchinson more than $25,000 for his property. Hutchinson declined and filed legal action against the city and county challenging the validity of the inter-local agreement.
The local courts ultimately ruled that the city's eminent domain filings were not properly carried out under Indiana law because an appraisal had not been given to Hutchinson with the formal offer.
This oversight led to the case being dismissed without prejudice, meaning the city could refile the eminent domain proceedings. Hutchinson filed an appeal, arguing the case should have been dismissed with prejudice, which would prohibit the city from refiling.
The Court of Appeals ruled that Hutchinson showed the city's eminent domain claim was "procedurally defective," but did not establish that the city didn't have the right to take his property through eminent domain.
"Surely, if interests in land may be taken for public use without having been obtained under the eminent domain statutes, then at the very least the City should be permitted to refile an action for appropriation upon complying with Indiana Code," Judge Michael Barnes wrote in the opinion. Judges Edward Najam Jr. and L. Mark Bailey were also in agreement with the decision.
Hutchinson also appealed on the basis that the inter-local agreement was invalid. He argued that there were no specific functions to be performed by the county outlined in the agreement.
Part of the inter-local agreement reads: "The County shall have no obligation for the Project other than to agree that the City is given the powers to and may perform the Project." The Court of Appeals determined this was sufficient enough to establish the county's function.
Since the Court of Appeals upheld the case being dismissed without prejudice, the city has already started the process toward obtaining the land.
"I believe we have gone through the process in anticipation this is the decision that would be made, and we have made an offer to Mr. Hutchinson," city attorney Joe Jenner said.
The Madison Redevelopment Commission in January approved making an offer of $54,890 for the property. This is more than double the original offer made to Hutchinson, which according to court records was $25,107.50.
James Spencer, Hutchinson's attorney, said they are "exploring our options" in terms of where to go from here, and did not consider the city's offer until the Court of Appeals made a ruling.
A few legal options Spencer and Hutchinson are looking at including filing for a rehearing with the Indiana Court of Appeals, filing a petition to transfer the case to the Indiana Supreme Court or doing nothing and letting the appeal stand, which seems unlikely.
"I doubt we're going to let the decision go without a fight," Spencer said. "But that's up to the client."
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