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City of Long Branch v. Angelides

A-6088-08T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2010) (Unpublished)

CONDEMNATION; VALUATION — In determining fair compensation in an eminent domain proceeding, the jury may consider comparable sales even if they occur after the date of valuation; and, there is no bar, as a matter of law, against considering a comparable sale between siblings.

A municipality acquired three properties by eminent domain. The owners challenged the amount of just compensation offered by the municipality. Condemnation commissioners were appointed and they fixed an award, but the owners were dissatisfied and appealed. A trial was held and a jury awarded a sum for just compensation. Then, the municipality appealed.

First, the municipality argued that the jury verdict was improperly tainted because the owners’ counsel mentioned litigation regarding other residents near the subject property. At sidebar following the remark, the lower court ruled that it was improper to mention prior litigation. The Appellate Division observed that not every improper comment by counsel during a trial warrants a reversal. The Court found that the owners’ counsel’s passing comment, even if improper, had no objective potential to undermine the jury’s fair consideration of the just compensation issues. Since the comment did not even have the capacity to influence the result, the comment did not warrant a new trial.

The municipality also argued that the lower court erred in allowing the owners’ expert witness to use two particular comparable sales as part of the owner’s appraisal opinion. They were for sales made after the valuation date. The Court noted that the jury was fully aware of the pros and cons of the valuation method, and was not bound to follow that opinion. Courts may allow comparable sales occurring after the date of valuation. Similarly, the Court found no error when the lower court allowed an expert witness to testify regarding a comparable sale between a brother and his sister, because such sales are not barred from consideration as a matter of law.

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