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Attorneys’ fees, interest add up to big money in Map Act cases

 

Jurors in Cumberland County have reached verdicts in two Map Act cases that highlight the high cost that the state—and, ultimately, its taxpayers—will have to shoulder for making property owners wait years, sometimes decades, to be paid for condemnation actions.

In both cases, Chappell v. NCDOT and Thompson v. NCDOT, interest and attorneys’ fees far outweighed the actual damages that jurors awarded for takings that occurred in 1992.

The plaintiffs filed their cases before 2016, when then-Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a bill that dropped the condemnation interest rate from the statutory 8 percent simple interest to the floating prime rate, which is about 3.75 percent. The bill also capped the rate at 8 percent, preventing owners from benefiting if the prime rate were to spike.

Earlier this year, Forsyth County Superior Court Judge John Craig ruled that the law was unconstitutional. An appellate court has yet to consider his ruling.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Map Act plaintiffs who filed inverse condemnation claims before the law took effect are still entitled to a presumptive interest rate of 8 percent, which can snowball into a “huge amount of money,” said Fayetteville lawyer Neil Yarborough of Yarborough, Winters & Neville.

He represents the plaintiffs in Chappell and Thompson, which he said are “representative of basically the types of cases that will come forward” as the Map Act litigation goes before juries throughout North Carolina.

Thompson centers on vacant land that was being held for commercial development while Chappell concerns a residence adversely affected by the DOT’s filing of a Map Act. The state used the law for decades to freeze development and drive down land acquisition costs, but now it’s being forced to pay owners. See the story on page 1 for more on the history of the Map Act and a recent sanctions order against the DOT.  

In Chappell, the jury awarded $137,247 in just compensation plus interest at the rate of 8 percent compounded annually from the 1992 taking until April 2018, when the DOT deposited $40,934 for compensation. The jury awarded another $6,139, plus interest, for a 2006 taking. After factoring in interest, the awards total $1,024,578, according to Yarborough, a partner at Yarborough, Winters & Neville.

In Thompson, the jury awarded $83,400 in compensation  plus 8-percent interest from the time of the taking in 1992 until April 2018.

The DOT also was ordered to pay more than $826,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs in Chappell and $425,058 in fees and costs in Thompson.

Following the jury verdicts, Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Tally entered final judgment in both cases on July 11.

“It was an excellent result and very fair,” Yarborough said. But he added that the verdicts do not “take into account the personal toll that being subject to these restrictions have had on my clients since 1992.”

Follow Phillip Bantz on Twitter @NCLWBantz

 

VERDICT REPORT – MAP ACT

Amounts: $143,386 plus interest and attorneys’ fees in Chappel and $83,500 plus interest and attorneys’ fees in Thompson  

Injuries alleged: Condemnation

Case names: Chappell v. NCOT and Thompson v. NCDOT

Court: Cumberland County Superior Court

Case Nos.: 14 CVS 9407 and 15 CVS 2896

Judge: Mary Ann Tally

Date of verdicts: Final judgment entered July 11

Attorneys for plaintiffs: Neil Yarborough and H. Addison Winters of Yarborough, Winters & Neville in Fayetteville; Paul Hendrick and Matthew Bryant of Hendrick, Bryant, Nerhood, Sanders & Otis in Winston-Salem

Attorneys for defendants: William Smith and James Stanley of the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office in Raleigh; William Moss of Smith Anderson in Raleigh; and Matthew Skidmore of Teague Campbell in Raleigh

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