Court affirms prior judgment, UDOT ordered to pay $15 million in eminent domain case

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An image of the land at the center of a lawsuit between LEJ Investments and the Utah Department of Transportation.

An image of the land at the center of a lawsuit between LEJ Investments and the Utah Department of Transportation.

SALT LAKE CITY — A judge has affirmed an earlier judgment against the Utah Department of Transportation this week, and the department is ordered to pay more than $15 million in connection with land taken to build the Mountain View Corridor.

According to a press release from Parr, Brown, Gee & Loveless, Third District Court Judge Todd Shaughnessy has ordered UDOT to pay LEJ Investments, LLC $13.09 million–which amounts to just over $15 million once interest from 2011 is included.

LEJ owned more than 350 acres of property located between 7000-7800 South and 6000-6400 West  in West Jordan. The press release states that when LEJ declined an offer from UDOT for the land, the agency sued to condemn the 63 acres and commenced work on a mile-long stretch of the Mountain View Corridor.

During the resulting trial, UDOT argued they should only have to pay $5.2 million for the condemned property, and they stated LEJ had not suffered any damage to the remaining property as a result of the roadway being placed across the property.  Ultimately, LEJ was awarded about $9 million for the condemned property, and nearly $4 million in additional damages to the remaining property. Interest amounting to about $1.9 million was also awarded for a total of $15,014,933.

After the trial, UDOT requested an additional evidentiary hearing. According to the press release, Judge Shaughnessy affirmed the earlier order Thursday after considering additional testimony and evidence.

“This property has been in our family for generations.,” Robert Bowman, one of the property owners, stated. “For nearly a decade, UDOT prevented us from developing our property when and how we would have liked, and it is gratifying to see justice done.  I am very grateful for the excellent work done by our legal team at Parr Brown and to the Judge for reaching a fair result.”

Attorney Justin Matkin said he believes the judgment is one of the largest, if not the largest, eminent domain judgment in Utah history.

Mark Burns, Highway and Utilities Division Director for the Utah Attorney General’s Office, said UDOT has “one of the lowest condemnation rates in the country” and regularly strives to find the right balance between property claims and their duty to protect the interests of the taxpayers.

Burns said the judgment is less than half of the amount the owners of the property demanded prior to trial, and he notes the judge rejected the methods for that original appraisal as unreliable.

“The amount of the award may seem large because it involved a 353-acre parcel, but on a per-acre basis, the value was far below the $26 million the owners claimed they should receive in just compensation from Utah taxpayers,” Burns stated. “The judgment amount was closer to UDOT’s appraised value than to the owners’ inflated number.”

Burns said UDOT may appeal some issues in connection with the case, and he states that the property owners, “failed to disclose 800+ pages of commercial plans for the property and their appraiser did not divulge this information in his testimony or to UDOT before trial as required by the rules.”

Finally, Burns said the Mountain View corridor is a much-needed highway and trail system that will serve the state for generations and is a boon to West Jordan residents in particular.