California Appellate Team Successfully Secures Reversal of Inverse Condemnation Judgment

San Diego, Calif. (March 19, 2020) - San Diego Partners Jeffry A. Miller, chair of Lewis Brisbois’ Appellate Practice, and Lann G. McIntyre, vice-chair of Lewis Brisbois’ Appellate Practice, along with Indian Wells Appellate Practice Partner Wendy S. Dowse, recently prevailed in a consolidated appeal from a judgment entered against our client, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), after a two-phase inverse condemnation trial. A post-judgment order awarding attorney fees had also been entered against our client.

The plaintiffs claimed that their property was taken or damaged when Caltrans added two High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes to a 12.7-mile stretch of Interstate 5 in Los Angeles County. The trial court conducted a bench trial on the issue of liability and found that the plaintiffs proved a cognizable taking or damaging of their property based on evidence that the freeway expansion resulted in increased noise, vibration, and dust, which decreased the value of their property. A jury then determined that the plaintiffs were entitled to over $1.2 million in compensation, and the trial court awarded the plaintiffs over $1 million in attorney fees and costs.

The Court of Appeal of California reversed the judgment and the fee order, and directed the trial court to enter judgment in Caltrans’ favor. After rejecting the plaintiffs’ argument that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the appeal because Caltrans did not timely file its new trial motion, the court agreed with Caltrans that the plaintiffs failed to present substantial evidence of a burden on their property that was direct, substantial, and peculiar to the property itself. “There is nothing, in short, to indicate that the plaintiffs were ‘singled out’ by the HOV project or were subjected to any more noise, dust, and vibrations than others residing next to the freeway.” The court also agreed with Caltrans that evidence of diminution in property value did not establish a “taking or damaging” within the meaning of the California Constitution.

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