Appellate Court Affirms Favorable Owner Verdict Where Owner Did Not Present Appraisal Expert

by: Joseph Grather
7 Jun 2019

The Appellate Division recently affirmed a judgment awarding a property owner $4,500,000 where the only appraisal expert testimony was the condemning agency’s expert, who opined that the property in question was only worth $2,830,000.

The case was captioned Township of Manalapan v. Gentile and was commenced in August of 2010 to acquire a 45 acre tract in the municipality. The township funded part of the taking through a $2,800,000 bond issue.

The opinion is worthy of a full reading, but it appears that the property owner and his attorney were confident that their best case strategy would be to offer the opinion of a professional planner on residential lot yield only. The planner testified that the highest and best use of the property would be development of residential on half-acre lots (property was in a three acre minimum zone). The planner admitted that a variance would be required to develop houses on half-acre lots and offered no opinion on the probability of such variance.

After the jury rendered a verdict of $4,500,000, the township moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The trial court denied the motion and the appellate division affirmed noting that “motions for judgment are generally “denied when the case rests upon issues of credibility.'” Slip op. at 23. And importantly, the “Township’s appraiser, conceded that his appraisal was based on the assumption that the subject property would yield twelve lots. He subsequently admitted that the lot could yield more than twelve lots. Thus, reasonable minds could differ on how many lots the subject property would yield.” Id. at 24.

That’s the fundamental basis for affirming the verdict, but again, the full opinion is worthy of a read as the courts dealt with several other procedural issues is sustaining a jury’s award of constitutional just compensation.