by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A unanimous three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals dealt a blow in favor of property rights and against the N.C. Department of Transportation this morning when it ruled against DOT in a case involving Forsyth County property owners and the Map Act.
Appellate judges reversed a trial court’s ruling and accepted property owners’ claims that DOT had engaged in a “taking” by including the affected property in the official corridor map for Winston-Salem’s Northern Beltway.
The concluding section of Chief Judge Linda McGee’s opinion includes the following:
… [W]e hold the trial court erred when it concluded Plaintiffs’ claims for inverse condemnation were not yet ripe based on its determination that Plaintiffs did not suffer a taking at the time NCDOT filed the transportation corridor maps for the Western and Eastern Loops. We remand this matter to the trial court to consider evidence concerning the extent of the damage suffered by each Plaintiff as a result of the respective takings and concerning the amount of compensation due to each Plaintiff for such takings. In light of our disposition that the trial court erred by dismissing Plaintiffs’ claims for inverse condemnation, we need not consider NCDOT’s issue on appeal concerning whether the trial court erred by failing to dismiss Plaintiffs’ claims for inverse condemnation with prejudice, rather than without prejudice.
Additionally, we note that the relief sought by Plaintiffs in their respective complaints was: for the recovery of damages suffered when NCDOT exercised its power of eminent domain against their properties by recording the transportation corridor maps pursuant to the Map Act; for NCDOT to be compelled to purchase Plaintiffs’ properties; and for recovery of fees, costs, taxes, and interest. Plaintiffs’ challenge to the constitutionality of the Hardship Program was one of five alternative claims alleged in order to obtain this relief. Because our disposition allows the trial court, upon consideration of evidence to be presented by Plaintiffs, to award Plaintiffs the relief they sought in their respective complaints, we decline to consider the arguments presented on appeal concerning the constitutionality of the Hardship Program as applied to Plaintiffs. Therefore, we decline to further address the arguments presented for this issue on appeal. We also decline to address NCDOT’s suggestion that Plaintiffs’ claims for inverse condemnation are barred by the statute of limitations because, as NCDOT concedes, construction on the Northern Beltway Project has not been completed.