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State ex rel. Morrison v. Helm

Supreme Court of Arizona

October 21, 1959

STATE of Arizona ex rel. Robert MORRISON, Attorney General, Appellant,
Jack T. HELM, Norbert J. Abel, Karl F. Abel and L. C. Wilkerson, co-partners, doing business as Transportation Services, Inc., Appellees.

Rehearing Denied Nov. 24, 1959.

Page 203

[86 Ariz. 277] Wade Church, Atty. Gen., and Charles L. Hardy, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellant.

Jennings, Strouss, Salmon & Trask and William T. Birmingham, for appellees.

STANFORD, Superior Court Judge.

This is a condemnation proceeding instituted by the State for the purpose of acquiring a portion of the property of the defendants needed in the process of widening and reconstructing the existing Phoenix-Cordes Junction Highway.

On November 4, 1957, the trial court awarded defendants Elton C. McJunkin and Marjorie P. McJunkin, the owners of the fee, a judgment against the State for the sum of $33,000 as damages for the taking of their interest in the real property. There was no appeal from the judgment and appellant is now the fee owner of the property sought to be condemned.

On February 7, 1958, judgment was entered fixing the damages which would result from the taking of the leasehold interest of appellees Jack T. Helm, Norbert J. Abel, Karl F. Abel, and L. C. Wilkerson, co-partners doing business as Transportation Services, Inc., in the sum of $240,000. Appellant perfected its appeal from this judgment entered in favor of appellees and, while this appeal was pending, appellant moved to dismiss the complaint and vacate the judgment.

It is appellees' position that the State cannot now abandon its condemnation proceedings; that upon the trial court's finding and written judgment thereon, title vested in the State and appellees' right to compensation has become vested.

While the right to abandon condemnation proceedings may be relinquished by agreement or lost by estoppel, the general rule is that in the absence of a statute ance may be had, an eminent domain profixing the time within which a discontinuceeding may be discontinued at any time before the rights of the parties have become reciprocally vested. Annotation: 121 A.L.R. 12, 16, and cases cited therein; 30 C.J.S. Eminent Domain § 335(b).

In the case of South Carolina State Highway Department v. Bobotes, 180 S.C. 183, 185 S.E. 165, 121 A.L.R. 1, 2, it was held that:

'* * * in the absence of statutory abridgment, the right of the condemnor to discontinue the proceedings and reject the property sought to be acquired cannot be denied as a general rule. This right, however, is not an absolute one. There is a well-defined point of time or stage of the proceedings after which the right to abandon is lost. The vesting of the owner's right to compensation is considered the pivotal fact which determines the incidence[86 Ariz. 278] of that stage of the proceedings, and such vesting of the right to compensation is concurrent with the taking of the property becoming complete. * * *

'* * * In those states having constitutional requirements that private property shall not be taken for public purposes without just compensation first being made therefor, it is almost uniformly held, in the absence of actual entry, that the taking does not become complete until the condemnor pays or tenders the amount of the final award to the property owner * * *.

'By virtue of such fixation of time at which the taking is rendered complete, the courts generally hold that 'the condemnation proceedings, the award or verdict and judgment therein merely serve the office of fixing and determining the value of the property sought, that the condemning party has the election of accepting the award and acquiring the property or rejecting the award and abandoning the proceedings'; * * * Such recognized right of election seems to be based upon considerations of public policy, which requires that the cost of a proposed project

Page 204

be first ascertained before it is finally determined to launch the enterprise.'

In the case of Manion v. Louisville, St. L. & T. Ry. Co., 90 Ky. 491, 14 S.W. 532, 533, the court held that

'The weight of authority undoubtedly is that, in the absence of statutory provision, the effect of provisions for condemnation is simply to fix the price at which the party condemning can take the property, and that even after condemnation or judgment the purpose of taking the property may be abandoned without incurring any liability to pay the damages awarded. Lewis, Em.Dom. § 656. Such is the correct rule on the subject, and to adjudge otherwise would require the applicant, whether a private corporation or a state or municipality, to submit to the imposition of exorbitant values upon property condemned for public use, and to often take possession or purchase that which would be detrimental instead of beneficial to the public interests.'

In the case of Danforth v. United States, 308 U.S. 271, 284, 60 S.Ct. 231, 236, 84 L.Ed. 240, the United States Supreme Court states:

'Unless a taking has occurred previously in actuality or by a statutory provision, which fixes the time of taking by an event such as the filing of an action, we are of the view that the taking in a condemnation suit under this statute takes place upon the payment [86 Ariz. 279] of the money award by the condemnor. * * * Until taking, the condemnor may discontinue or abandon his effort. The determination of the award is an offer subject to acceptance by the condemnor and thus gives to the user of the sovereign power of eminent domain an opportunity to determine whether the valuations leave the cost of completion within his resources. Condemnation is a means by which the sovereign may find out what any piece of property will cost. 'The owner is protected by the rule that title does not pass until compensation has been ascertained and paid * * *.'

There are other cases which hold that the condemnor any abandon the proceedings at any time before the rights of the parties are reciprocally vested: Oklahoma Turnpike Authority v. Dye, 208 Okl. 396, 256 P.2d 438; State ex rel. Struntz v. Spokane County,85 Wash. 187, 147 P. 879; State v. Calkins, Wash.,342 P.2d 620; Selle v. City of Fayetteville,207 Ark. 966, 184 S.W.2d 58; State v. Flamme,217 Ind. 149, 26 N.E.2d 917; Department of Public Works and Building v. ...

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