Richard C. Stamper, Donald D. Robinson, and Donald Dean Robinson, LLC (the Stampers) owned a 9.1 acre parcel of vacant, light-industrial zoned land in the City of Perris, California. In 2009, the City filed an eminent domain action to acquire a portion of the property needed for a truck route project (the take). The City appraised the take as undevelopable agricultural land on the theory that the City would not approve any development plan for the Stamper Property unless the owners gave or dedicated the take to the City. Because of this dedication requirement, the City reasoned that the take would either be given to the City as a condition of development or remain vacant and usable only for growing crops and thus should be valued on that basis.
The Stampers disagreed and argued that a jury should consider the dedication in determining fair market value because it was not reasonably probable that the City would impose the dedication requirement and, if imposed, it would be unconstitutional. The Stampers argued that the take should be valued at its highest and best use as industrial property.
At the City's request, the trial court judge, sitting without a jury, heard the evidence and ruled in the City's favor that the dedication requirement was both reasonably probable and constitutional.
The Stampers appealed the trial court's ruling and challenged the fact that a judge and not a jury decided the issues concerning the dedication requirement. The Court of Appeal agreed with the Stampers, reversed the trial court's judgment, and sent the case back for a jury trial. The Court of Appeal held that a jury was required to decide whether a reasonable probability existed that the City would require the Stampers to dedicate that part of the property as a condition of developing the property. Citing the California Constitution, the Court stated, "[w]e hold that the issues surrounding the dedication requirement are essential to the determination of ‘just compensation' and therefore must be ‘ascertained by a jury.'" The Court noted that the trial court's sole role on factual issues affecting compensation is to act as an "evidentiary gatekeeper" by deciding if there was sufficient evidence for the jury to consider. "Only if there is insufficient evidence to allow the question to go to the jury may the court withhold the question from the jury and determine it as an "evidentiary or other legal issue affecting the determination of compensation." Otherwise, the jury should decide the issue.
City of Perris v. Stamper (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 1104Note:
Stamper distinctly delineates the respective roles of the judge and jury when it comes to dedication determinations in eminent domain. Following Stamper's broad holding, the judge's role is restricted to that of an "evidentiary gatekeeper," and complicated valuation issues involving the likelihood and propriety of a dedication are within the exclusive province of the jury.