Elimination of median cut not a taking

by Gary Taylor

Buck’s, Inc. v. City of Omaha
(Nebraska Court of Appeals, November 25, 2014)

Buck’s, Inc. owns and operates a gas station on the northwest corner of the intersection of 144th Street and Stony Brook Boulevard in Omaha. In August 2009, the City eliminated a cut in the median on Stony Brook Boulevard that gave eastbound traffic access to the gas station. No access points to the gas station were eliminated. The city engineer testified that the decision to eliminate the median cut was made to address safety concerns associated with the anticipated increased traffic generated by a new grocery store in the area. The city’s right-of-way manager testified that the City did not acquire any property or property interest from Buck’s for this project, and affirmed that Buck’s had three entrances to its property prior to the project, and continued to have three entrances after project completion.

Buck’s nevertheless brought an inverse condemnation action against the City. A board of appraisers was appointed, and Buck’s was awarded $30,000. Both parties appealed to the district court, which entered summary judgment for the City. Buck’s appealed.

The Nebraska Court of Appeals noted that the right of an owner of property that abuts a street or highway to have ingress and egress by way of the street is a property right in the nature of an easement, and the owner cannot be deprived of such right without due process of law and compensation for loss. The court also noted, however, that “as to damages claimed by reason of a change in the flow of traffic by placing medians in the center of a street, [the damages] result from the exercise of the police power and are noncompensable as being incidental to the doing of a lawful act.” After the median cut was closed, Buck’s still had access to Stony Brook Boulevard. “The fact that left-hand turns are now restricted is but an inconvenience shared with the general public.” The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court.

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