OndaLaBuhn, and co-counsel Richard Ricketts, recently concluded extensive litigation against Ohio Power Company, colloquially known as AEP, and successfully championed the private property rights of a family farming operation located on the edge of Mt. Sterling (“Client”). After observing three days of evidence, testimony, and legal arguments, a unanimous panel of twelve Madison County jurors returned their verdict, awarding $374,000 more than AEP’s suggested valuation of $88,857.
Under Ohio eminent domain law, certain public entities are permitted to appropriate real property from private landowners when necessary and for public use purposes. This is known as a “taking” or “take.” However, the taking-entity must pay the private landowner “just compensation” for the taking and the damage to the remainder of the property resulting from the taking. Eminent domain cases are required to proceed on an expedited basis and necessitate immediate action on the part of landowners who wish to protect their rights.
Between 2017 through 2019, AEP began the Madison-Harrison 69kV Transmission Line Project aimed to replace and build new electric utility infrastructure over a 23-mile-long segment of land through Madison and Pickaway counties (“Project”). A portion of the Project runs through our Client’s property which is currently used as farmland. When AEP initially approached our Client with news of the Project, AEP offered our Client roughly $28,000 to voluntarily acquire its desired property rights. Our Client refused AEP’s offer and requested the route be moved to either the northern or southern property boundary instead of running through the middle of the property. AEP refused to change its chosen path and instead chose to take the rights under eminent domain. Immediately prior to filing with the Court, AEP delivered a statutorily required “Good Faith Offer” to our Client of just $13,635 (accompanied by an out-of-state appraisal substantiating their offer) in “just compensation” to avoid having to endure the legal process of having the rights taken involuntarily.
Upon being served with AEP’s legal filing, our Client took immediate action to retain counsel and defend their constitutional and statutory rights. In late 2019, our Client’s legal battle began by challenging the necessity of the taking, the expansiveness of the easement terms, and the adequacy of AEP’s due diligence in choosing a route through the middle of our Client’s property. On January 2, 2020, the Madison County Court of Common Pleas ruled in favor of AEP finding the Project and easement terms were necessary and concluding there was insufficient evidence to prove AEP’s routing decision was either arbitrary or an abuse of discretion. On September 28, 2020, the Twelfth District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision effectively eliminating any right for our Client to prevent AEP from taking the rights necessary to install its transmission line through their property. See Ohio Power Co. v. Duff, 12th Dist. Madison No. CA2020-01-004, 2020-Ohio-4628. The last remaining issue between the parties was the amount of just compensation due to our Client for AEP’s taking.
On March 7, 2023, the issue of just compensation was presented to a Madison County jury. Prior to trial, OndaLaBuhn was successful in negotiating with AEP to restrict the terms and minimize the potential uses of the easement being taken. Over the course of three days both parties presented expert testimony regarding the total compensation due as a result of the scope and location of easement rights being taken from our Client. AEP’s appraiser testified the just compensation due was $88,857 including damage to the property of roughly 0.75% (5% damage applied to approximately 15% of the total acreage). Conversely, our Client’s appraiser testified the entire 207 +/- acre property was damaged by at least 9% resulting in a minimum of $387,445 due to our Client in just compensation.
Following roughly two hours of deliberations, the jury awarded $462,000 in just compensation to our Client. The jury’s award was more than 5 times the value presented at trial by AEP’s expert and $448,365 more than AEP’s “Good Faith Offer” from August 2019. This was the third Madison County jury compensation award relating to this Project but was the first such award which exceeded the appraisal amount recommended by the landowner’s expert appraiser.
This was an exciting victory for the OndaLaBuhn litigation team and a satisfying vindication for our Client’s disapproval of AEP’s refusal to move the transmission line to one of the property boundaries and what our Client perceived were bullying tactics during the pre-litigation negotiations. The OndaLaBuhn litigation team welcomes the opportunity to help you defend your property rights from appropriating entities and assist you in pursuing full and fair compensation for the rights being taken from you.