By Victoria Heldt
Krupicka v. Village of Dorchester
(Nebraska Court of Appeals, October 11, 2011)
Krupicka farms a 160-acre plot of land outside the Village of Dorchester. The Village of Dorchester owns a wastewater treatment plant on the property adjacent to the northeast portion of Krupicka’s land. In October 2008, the Village notified Krupicka that its wastewater treatment plant must undergo alterations and expansions in order to meet federal and state standards. The letter specified that the expansion (new lagoons) would need to take place on a portion of Krupicka’s land and that the Village was prepared to negotiate a purchase agreement. Krupicka met with the Village’s attorney (Gropp) regarding the acquisition in October 2008 and then in December of 2008 Krupicka received an official offer letter. The letter informed Krupicka that the Village desired to purchase 40 acres of Krupicka’s land at $2,200 per acre. The initial plan consisted of four new lagoons placed on a portion of land north of a creek that ran through Krupicka’s property. Krupicka hired representation (Hemmerling) and requested a meeting with Gropp in order to discuss alternative plans.
In January of 2009 Krupicka met with Gropp and the project manager, who explained that the project required a 35-40 acre plot of land and needed to be finalized by September of that year. Krupicka expressed concerns about his ability to use his pivot irrigation system on the land near the lagoons. Another meeting was held in February of 2009 at which Krupicka suggested the lagoon site be moved to the south side of the creek running through his property. After the Village’s superintendent of sewer, water, and electrical completed research regarding the alternative location of the lagoons, Krupicka received a letter stating it would not be feasible. The letter, received in March 2009, included images of the acceptable future location of the lagoon and contained the following warning: “Dimensions are approximate & will vary. Area shown = 35.0 acres.” Sometime shortly afterwards, Krupicka received a similar letter in which the area shown was equal to 36.7 acres.
Later that month Hemmerling, on behalf of Krupicka, sent a letter to Gropp rejecting the $2200 per acre offer and countered with a $10,000 per acre offer. Gropp rejected this offer and countered with a $3,650 per acre offer “for the land in the northeast quarter of…Krupicka’s land.” In August, Krupicka attended a Board meeting at which he requested a postponement of the decision regarding the lagoons. The Board said it was not possible due to the September 1 deadline and reiterated its offer of $3,650 per acre. Krupicka walked out of the meeting. At the same meeting the Board authorized the condemnation of approximately 37 acres of Krupicka’s land on which to build three lagoons. A witness at the meeting could not recall whether this took place before or after Krupicka left. Gropp testified that he provided Krupicka with a copy of the final plan, but Krupicka claimed he never received it. Gropp sent a “Petition for Condemnation and for Appointment of Appraisers” to Hemmerling. Attached to this letter as a reference was an image of the plan included in the April 2009 letter to Krupicka and not the most recent plan. Gropp said this was because he had sent his only copy of the most recent plan to Krupicka, and he provided one later that month to the appraisers. The appraisers valued Krupicka’s damages at $160,000 (or $4,311 per acre.) Krupicka later consented to a temporary construction easement for consideration of $8,500.
In district court, Krupicka alleged that the $160,000 was not adequate and that the condemnation of his property was invalid since there were no good faith negotiations prior to it. The court found that the Village did indeed enter into good faith negotiations before condemning the property. Krupicka appealed. After clarifying that it does have jurisdiction to decide the case, the Court of Appeals addressed Krupicka’s claim. At the heart of the claim, Krupicka argued that the good faith negotiation requirement was not met because he never received a legal description of the land to be condemned and therefore the condemnation was invalid. In order to satisfy the statutory requirement of good faith negotiation, “there must be a good faith attempt to agree, consisting of an offer made in good faith and a reasonable effort to induce the owner to accept it.” He did not want the land returned to him (as the treatment facility construction had already begun) but instead wanted more compensation.
Krupicka relied on Prairie View Tel. Co. v. County of Cherry as precedent. In that case, the County of Cherry sought to condemn property in order to build a county road. The only form of negotiation was a letter addressed to the landowners. The letter informed them that since they failed to appear for negotiations as formerly requested and since the County was unable to find them at their home on one occasion, the County was offering $3,000 as consideration. The Court held that an offer in good faith was not made since the county never discussed how much land it was going to take.
The Court noted that the facts in Prairie differed greatly from the facts in this case. The Village indicated “with reasonable clarity” how much land was to be taken. In addition, it sought Krupicka’s input regarding the location of the lagoons in the initial planning stages. Although it was unclear as to whether Krupicka received the final draft of the plan for the lagoon, the other three drawings he did receive showed a portion of land that was in “essentially the same location as the portion of Krupicka’s land that was ultimately condemned.” For these reasons, the Court affirmed the district court’s decision.