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U.S. v. 27.93 Acres of Land

filed: January 29, 1991.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania; D.C. Civil No. 87-01049.

Sloviter, Scirica, and Seitz, Circuit Judges.

Author: Seitz

Opinion OF THE COURT SEITZ, Circuit Judge

Alex and Dona DiSanto (the "DiSantos"), defendants in a condemnation proceeding brought by the United States, appeal the district court's order dismissing their post-trial motions for a new trial and relief from judgment. The district court had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1345 and 1358 (1988). We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1988).


In 1971, the DiSantos purchased 130 acres of land in Silver Spring Township, (the "Township"), Cumberland County, Pennsylvania for investment purposes. The property consisted of two tracts of land, one 98 acres and the other 32 acres.

Lying along the eastern border of the 98 acre tract and separating it from the 32 acre tract is an approximately 100 foot wide strip of land owned in fee simple by the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company. The southern border of the 98 acre tract is along U.S. Highway 11, Carlisle Pike. Privately owned acreage used for agricultural purposes as well as land owned by the National Park Service used for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail abut the north, west, and northwest boundaries of the 98 acre tract. It is contiguous to land owned by the National Park Service, some of which was recently acquired by the Park Service through other condemnation actions.

In December 1985, the government first contacted the DiSantos concerning their property. At that time, the DiSantos refused to discuss the government's proposal to acquire 27.93 acres, which lay in the northwest region of the 98 acre tract. They also refused to authorize a government appraisal. From December 1985 to July 1987, the government and the DiSantos discussed a possible purchase, but no agreement was reached. On July 28, 1987, the government filed in the district court a complaint in condemnation and a notice of condemnation to acquire the 27.93 acre tract for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.*fn1

At the time that formal condemnation proceedings were initiated, the DiSantos' 98 acre tract was subject to two zoning classifications. A strip of the DiSantos' land abutting Carlisle Pike and lying along the southern border of the 98 acre tract was zoned "C-2 Highway Commercial District." That strip constituted approximately 28 acres of the 98 acre tract. A large portion of the 28 acre commercial strip fell within the 100 year floodplain in which improved uses were restricted by the Silver Spring Township Flood Plain ordinance. The remainder of the 98 acre tract, including the entire 27.93 acre tract sought by the government, was zoned agricultural but permitted some residential development.

In 1987, the Township began to devise a comprehensive plan that included a proposed enterprise district. Under the proposed enterprise district significant portions of the agricultural property in the Township were to be rezoned commercial. The details of the commercial zoning as well as the parameters of the enterprise district were changed on numerous occasions, and neither was finalized until the enterprise district was approved and adopted by the Township on December 27, 1989.

From late July 1987 to December 1988, the government and the DiSantos engaged in settlement discussions, but they were unable to agree upon the value of the condemned tract. Consequently, on December 13, 1988, the government notified the district court that no settlement agreement would be reached by December 30, 1988, and requested that the district court put the case on its docket. The case was listed on January 5, 1989, but continued.

On January 31, 1989, the DiSantos filed an application with the Township planning board requesting that all their acreage be rezoned C-2 Highway Commercial. The Township planning board recommended approval of the application. The application then was sent to the Cumberland County Planning Commission (the "Planning Commission").

On February 2, 1989, the district court scheduled a jury trial for June 1989 and ordered that discovery be completed by May 1, 1989. Prior to the close of discovery, the DiSantos' counsel informed the government that the DiSantos' application for rezoning their property commercial had been "tentatively approved" and that the DiSantos' expert appraised the property as commercial rather than agricultural. Thereafter the parties agreed to file a joint motion to permit discovery of the basis for the commercial appraisal and to postpone trial. The court extended the discovery deadline to July 7, 1989, and set the trial date for August 4, 1989.

On May 18, 1989, the Planning Commission recommended to the Township Board of Supervisors, (the "Board"), that the DiSantos' request to rezone their property C-2 Highway Commercial be denied. The Planning Commission offered four reasons for its recommendation: (1) the proposed change was not consistent with the Township's future land use; (2) the proposed change was inconsistent with the Township's Comprehensive Plan that identifies the tract as being preserved for agricultural use; (3) the increased traffic could negatively impact Carlisle Pike, the town of New Kingston, and pedestrian safety near the Appalachian Trail; and (4) the enterprise district should be in place before any major rezoning along Carlisle Pike was considered.

The DiSantos' rezoning request was considered by the Board at its meeting on July 26, 1989. At that meeting, the DiSantos' prospective development plans were described. It was represented to the Board that some of the DiSantos' land was included in the present version of the proposed enterprise district.

When questioned by the Board, the DiSantos' representative acknowledged that the DiSantos requested that all of their land be rezoned C-2 Highway Commercial, including the 27.93 acres sought by the government. The DiSantos' representative stated that the DiSantos did not intend to use the requested zoning change to obtain a higher price from the government for the condemned tract.

At the July 26 meeting, some citizens spoke in opposition to the DiSantos' rezoning request. In addition, the Township engineer stated that the Township's present residual capacity was not sufficient to service the development that the DiSantos had proposed. In addition, the Board noted that the DiSantos requested C-2 Highway Commercial zoning might prove inconsistent with the commercial zoning included in the proposed enterprise district. Finally, the Board mentioned that it had received a letter from the government concerning the DiSantos' rezoning request. The letter stated that the government opposed the rezoning request for the land adjacent to the Appalachian Trial because agricultural zoning "offered a high degree of protection" and "the most appropriate environment" for the Appalachian Trail.

On July 28, 1989, the government filed a motion in limine requesting that the district court bar the DiSantos from introducing evidence of the highest and best use of the tract for any other than agricultural purposes. The government's motion also requested the district court to exclude evidence of internal estimates of value by the National Park Service, maps, plans or plots showing proposed development or subdivision, and evidence of severance damage to the remaining property.

On August 23, 1989, the Board denied the DiSantos' request to rezone their property commercial, and the government notified the court of the Board's action. On September 20, 1989, the district court granted the government's motion in limine in its entirety and denied the DiSantos' motion to reopen discovery and extend the trial date. At that time, the district court set October 2, 1989 as the trial date.

The DiSantos filed a motion for reconsideration, and requested the district court to hold an evidentiary hearing and to extend the trial date. Although the district court did not extend the trial date, it held an evidentiary hearing on October 2, 1989. At the evidentiary hearing, the district court determined that the DiSantos' could not present expert testimony on the commercial value of their land. As a consequence, and without prejudicing their right to appeal the ruling, the DiSantos stipulated to the government expert's appraisal of $213,000, the appraised value of the land under agricultural zoning. On October 3, 1989, the valuation trial was held, and on October 6, 1989, the district court entered a judgment in favor of the DiSantos for $213,000.

On October 12, the Planning Commission tentatively approved the proposed enterprise district, subject to certain recommendations concerning its boundaries and the extent of commercial development permitted. On October 16, 1989, the DiSantos filed a motion for a new trial claiming that the district court made numerous errors in its discovery and evidentiary rulings, thus depriving them of just compensation.

On December 27, 1989, the Township adopted a modified version of the enterprise district that rezoned some of the DiSantos' property commercial. The condemned tract was not included in the enterprise district, and its zoning remained agricultural.

On January 4, 1990, while their motion for a new trial was still pending, the DiSantos filed a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). On April 20, 1990, the district court dismissed the DiSantos' motions for a new trial and relief from judgment. The DiSantos filed a timely notice of appeal of the order denying those motions.


The DiSantos contest the amount the government paid for the condemned tract of land. They contend that the district court erred in numerous discovery and evidentiary rulings and in denying their Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 60(b) motion. These errors, the DiSantos assert, constituted a violation of due process and resulted in a taking of property without just compensation.

A. Discovery Issues

The DiSantos assert that three discovery rulings of the district court were in error. These rulings denied the DiSantos' requests to: (1) reopen discovery to investigate the government's motive in opposing the DiSantos' rezoning request; (2) require the government to produce internal memoranda concerning their motive in opposing ...

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