November 13, 2018, Salt Lake City, Utah…. Utah Court of Appeals issued its long-awaited decision in an appeal of one of the largest eminent domain judgments in Utah history, UDOT v. LEJ Investments, LLC et al, 2018 UT App 213. http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/view.html?court=appopin&opinion=UDOT v. LEJ Investments20181108_20160648_213.pdf The 14 page unanimous decision, authored by Judge David N. Mortensen, affirmed a June 2016 judgment entered by Third District Court Judge Todd Shaughnessy against the Utah Department of Transportation and in favor of LEJ Investments, LLC in the amount of $15,014,933.
The landowner, LEJ Investments, LLC, owned over 350 acres of property located between 7800-7000 South and 6000-6400 West in West Jordan City. After LEJ declined to accept UDOT’s offer, UDOT sued to condemn 63 acres and commenced work on the mile long stretch of the Mountain View Corridor.
At trial, UDOT claimed that it should only be required to pay $5.2 million for the condemned property and that LEJ had suffered no damages to its remaining property as a result of having a highway placed diagonally across the length and width of the property. In response, LEJ urged the trial court to award just compensation, not just for the value of the condemned property, but also for the harm caused to the remaining property. Among other things, LEJ claimed that UDOT had made decisions in the alignment of the Mountain View Corridor across its property that severely restricted access on 7800 south and significantly increased potential future development costs. The trial court agreed with LEJ, awarding roughly $9 million for the condemned property and nearly $4 million in additional damages to the remaining property. The court also awarded LEJ interest amounting to approximately $1.9 million.
As the Utah Court of Appeals noted in its’ decision, “. . . UDOT attempted to convince the trial court that a piece of property was nearly worthless dirt. The trial court thought more of the property, and UDOT appeals. We affirm.”
One of the property owners, Robert Bowman, expressed satisfaction with the decision. “This property has been in our family for generations. For nearly a decade, UDOT prevented us from developing our property when and how we would have liked, and it is gratifying to see justice done. I am very grateful for the excellent work done by our legal team at Parr Brown at trial and during the appeal.”
As one of the top eminent domain attorneys in Utah, Justin Matkin was similarly pleased. “We are extremely pleased that the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s well-reasoned and thoughtful decision. This has been a long road, but the Utah Court of Appeal’s decision hit the nail on the head. LEJ deserves a lot of credit for standing up to UDOT throughout this entire process.”
Matkin believes that the $15 million judgment is one of the largest eminent domain judgments, if not the largest, in Utah history. Jonathan Hafen, lead trial counsel for LEJ, stated: “We had a wonderful trial team that enjoyed achieving a hard-earned result for our client. The court of appeal’s decision confirms the wisdom of the trial court’s ruling. Justice has been done, and LEJ received the large judgment it deserved.”