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State v. Hancock
Decided: August 29, 1985.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, BY THE COMMISSIONER OF TRANSPORTATION, PLAINTIFF,
H. EDWARD HANCOCK AND WALTER W. HANCOCK, ET ALS., DEFENDANTS
Our condemnation statute, N.J.S.A. 20:3-6, provides that
Defendant Hancock claims that the State has failed to comply with these requirements. This opinion agrees with that contention and sustains an objection to the appointment of condemnation commissioners.
This matter does not involve substantial money. The State's offer of compensation totals $9550. The fact that the amount is modest highlights the significance of the principle involved. The statutory requirements of "bona fide negotiations" and "reasonable disclosure" are particularly important when minor property interests are being acquired by an exercise of the power of eminent domain. Condemnees subject to these takings can ill afford to hire attorneys and appraisers whose fees are not recoverable in a condemnation proceeding (except in circumstances not relevant here). They must be given every assurance that their government, spending, in part, their money, is treating them with absolute candor and fairness. Such assurance can be provided only if the government, when undertaking negotiations, fully discloses all of the information upon which it relies in making its offer. How else can its negotiations be "bona fide"?
In the present case Hancock hired an attorney but has not incurred the expense of an appraisal. The taking is partial, requiring payment of fair market value for the land taken plus damages caused to the remaining portion. The State's appraiser has advised counsel for Hancock (1) that the $9550 offer represents $4700 for the land taken and $4850 for damages to the remainder, and (2) as the locations, dates and amounts of the three comparable sales used to establish these figures, the names of the buyers and sellers involved in each and the recording data for the deeds delivered. The appraiser has also provided the attorney with a "confirmation of offer letter," said by the State to detail the valuation methods used in its appraisal. The attorney's request for a copy of the State's appraisal was refused.
The "confirmation of offer" letter, after identifying the property, states in full the following:
Confirming my personal negotiations discussion with you of today, the State has had your property appraised so as to estimate the offer of compensation to be paid to you for the land to be acquired and all legal compensable damages to any remainder.
For your analysis and to assist you in a better understanding of the value offer, the following is a summary of the total amount offered as just compensation without prejudice:
1. Value of all property in the taking
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