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Government of Virgin Islands v. 19.623 Acres of Land

decided: July 17, 1979.

GOVERNMENT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
v.
19.623 ACRES OF LAND, ETC. CHAS. H. STEFFEY, INC., APPELLANT



APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS, DIVISION OF ST. CROIX (Civil No. 75-471)

Before Rosenn, Maris and Hunter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Maris

Opinion OF THE COURT

The Government of the Virgin Islands initiated this condemnation proceeding under the authority of 28 V.I.C. §§ 411-422 to acquire property of the appellant, Chas. H. Steffey, Inc. (herein Steffey), as well as other privately-owned land situated on St. Croix, for use in the construction of a public highway connecting Christiansted and Frederiksted, St. Croix. On June 9, 1978, in accordance with the terms of stipulations entered into by the government and the defendant landowners, the district court entered a final judgment awarding the government title to the properties in question.

Prior to the government's condemnation action, Steffey was the owner of Parcel No. 13, Vicorp Land Subdivision (Estate Bethlehem, New Works), approximately 28 acres of land zoned for light industry and situated in the area of the government's contemplated extension of the Christiansted-Frederiksted highway. In May 1975, the commissioner of the Department of Property and Procurement of the Virgin Islands offered Steffey for four portions of Parcel 13, namely, 13k (1.083 acres), 13L (0.174 acres), 13m (1.374 acres) and 13n (0.031 acres), $29,800.00, $4,800.00, $37,800.00 and $1,000.00 respectively, a total of $73,400.00 for the four properties which the government estimated to be just compensation for them.

Steffey responded with a proposal that he would accept $90,000.00 in immediate settlement for the properties in question provided that the government guaranteed access to the adjoining land that would remain in Steffey's possession. The government rejected Steffey's counteroffer and on June 12, 1975, brought the present action to acquire the Steffey properties, among others, by condemnation under its power of eminent domain. An amended complaint adding several interested parties to the list of defendants was filed on August 27, 1975.

On June 19, 1975, the government, pursuant to 28 V.I.C. § 421, filed a declaration of taking and deposited in the district court, to the use of the persons entitled thereto, money in the amount estimated by the government to be just compensation for the properties being taken. With respect to the Steffey properties, the amount stated above totalling $73,400.00 was so deposited.

Steffey moved to vacate the declaration of taking asserting that the government had failed to comply with the procedures mandated under 28 V.I.C. § 435. Thereafter, in September, 1975, Steffey and representatives of the government entered into a formal stipulation under which the government agreed to provide access to Steffey's remaining land, to estimate the damages, if any, resulting from the acquisition to the remaining land, for which the government was liable, and to appraise anew the Steffey land taken by condemnation and Steffey agreed to abandon its effort to vacate the government's declaration of taking. Steffey then was permitted to withdraw all but $1,000.00 of the $73,400.00 deposited in the court by the government as just compensation for the acquired Steffey land.

In October 1975, the government moved for the fixing of the time and terms for surrender of possession of the properties designated in the complaint for condemnation. In opposition, five of the condemnees, not including Steffey, moved for judicial review of the necessity for the taking. The government then filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to the validity of the taking of all of the properties described in the complaint.

On March 24, 1976, the district court rejected the challenge to the necessity for the taking but concluded that the taking was without legislative authority and that the landowners' right to due process had been violated. The court, accordingly, denied the government's motion for surrender of possession, entered judgment for the condemnees, dismissed the complaint without prejudice and ordered that the portions of the deposit released to the condemnees and the portion still held by the clerk be returned to the government.

The government appealed from the district court's judgment that it was without authority to take the land in question and that it had, in the taking, violated the due process rights of the landowners. Several of the condemnees cross-appealed from various other provisions of the district court's order. This court vacated the district court's order and remanded the case with instructions to the district court to enter an order for surrender of possession of the properties in question. 536 F.2d 566 (1976).

On remand the district court proceeded to appoint three independent appraisers as commissioners with the powers of a master as set forth in Rule 53(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to determine the issue of compensation for the condemned properties and to submit their findings and report to the district court as provided in 28 V.I.C. § 418.

The commissioners found that the value of the Steffey property subject to the government's condemnation action which now included two additional properties on which the government had impressed easements, namely, Parcels Nos. 13d (0.092 acres) and 13e (0.070 acres) to be $27,075.00 for Parcel No. 13k, $4,350.00 for No. 13L, $34,350.00 for No. 13m, $775.00 for No. 13n, $690.00 for No. 13d and $525.00 for No. 13e, a total value of $67,765.00 for the severed land and the easements. However, the commissioners found, in addition, that Steffey's remaining land was damaged by the severance in the amount of $62,908.00 and that the total just compensation due Steffey for the acquisition was $131,000.00.

Steffey petitioned the district court for confirmation of the part of the commissioners' report relating to the valuation of the government's acquisition of its portions of Parcel 13 and for attorney fees and costs. The government stipulated to such confirmation by the court and the commissioners' findings pertaining to Parcel 13 were confirmed by the district court on December 12, 1977, the court ordering that the government pay Steffey $57,600.00 together with interest, that sum being the difference between the $73,400.00 estimated by the government to be just compensation for the properties acquired from Steffey and, as such, deposited in the court, which amount had already been released to Steffey, and the figure reported by the commissioners and ...


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