by Melanie Thwing
Glaize Creek Sewer District v. Gorham
(Missouri Court of Appeals, March 22, 2011)
Gary and Sheila Gorham live in Jefferson County, Missouri. In 2008 Glaize Creek Sewer District filed a petition in condemnation to acquire a permanent sewer easement and a temporary construction easement that would run through the Gorham’s back yard. This easement would be fifteen feet wide and 161 feet long.
During construction Glaize Creek utilized a thirty foot wide temporary easement to store equipment. Glaize Creek also cut down trees in the back yard as well as cutting the roots of at least nine trees, altered the grade of the back yard and left a permanent manhole.
The Gorham’s filed for damages with the trial court. Mrs. Gorham is a certified state appraiser and testified about the property. She found, according to Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practices (USPAP) that the property diminished $29,000 after the project was complete.
It was noted in her testimony that the loss of trees allowed commercial properties to be seen at night, there was now an inability to build a pool or any other improvements over the sewer line, there was a loss of marketability of property during the actual construction, and the back yard was now in a “torn-up condition.” All of these resulted in a permanent diminution in the value of the property.
Glaize Creek also called a certified real estate appraiser to testify. However, this expert did not see the property prior to construction and did not inspect the entire property. He stated his purpose was to find if there was an impact on the property from the easement, not the value of the entire property. He testified that there was no adverse affect to the property.
The Gorham’s then asked that the expert testimony from Glaize Creek be stricken because the opinion did not measure damages and the difference in value before and after the taking. This objection was overruled and the jury returned the verdict of $0.00.
The Gorham’s appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals, first arguing that the trial court abused its discretion when the expert testimony was allowed. They claim the testimony failed to address the proper measures of damages, was irrelevant, lacked foundation, and served only to confuse the jury. The Court of Appeals noted that it will not generally second-guess the conclusion of the trial court on the admissiblity of expert testimony, but in cases where the sources relied on by the expert are “so slight as to be fundamentally unsupported,” the testimony should be excluded from consideration. Missouri law, § 523.001(1) states that in partial takings the measure of compensation is “the difference between the fair market value of the entire property immediately prior to the taking and the fair market value of the remaining or burdened property immediately after the taking.” The expert from Glaize Creek testified that he did not assess the fair market value of the entire property before and after the easement. Instead he visited the property after the project was completed. In his testimony no data was presented as to how he reached the conclusion that no value was lost. On the other hand, Mrs. Gorham testified that she used comparable sales methods and presented reasons for the diminution in property value. The Court of Appeals found that Glaize Creek’s expert testimony must be excluded because it is not founded on any rational basis and without substantial information and is mainly speculative.
By failing to take into account the value of the property prior to the easement the testimony lacked foundation and should have been excluded. The judgment of the trial court was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.