CATALINA FOOTHILLS UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 16, of Pima County, a political subdivision of the State of Arizona, Plaintiff/Appellee/Cross-Appellant,
LA PALOMA PROPERTY OWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC., an Arizona non-profit corporation, Defendant/Appellant/Cross-Appellee
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Counsel is cautioned to make an independent determination of the status of this case. This decision is subject to further appellate review. Motions for reconsideration or petitions for review to the Arizona Supreme Court may be pending.
Appeal from the Superior Court in Pima County. No. C20075114, The Honorable Gus Aragon, Judge, The Honorable Michael Miller, Judge, The Honorable Scott Rash, Judge.
DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy, PC, Tucson By Lisa Anne Smith, Co-Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellee/Cross-Appellant.
The Law Offices of Diane M. Miller, PLLC, Phoenix By Diane M. Miller, Co-Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellee/Cross-Appellant.
Stubbs & Schubart, PC, Tucson By G. Lawrence Schubart, Counsel for Defendant/Appellant/Cross-Appellee.
Presiding Judge Diane M. Johnsen delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Judge Kent E. Cattani and Judge John C. Gemmill joined.
Diane M. Johnsen, Judge
[¶1] We hold in this case that a school district may exercise the power of eminent domain to acquire a private road by which vehicles may enter a school campus. Accordingly, we affirm the superior court's judgment of condemnation in all respects, except its calculation of prejudgment interest on the award of just compensation.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
[¶2] Catalina Foothills Unified School District No. 16 owns a school campus adjacent to La Paloma subdivision in Pima County. The property lies northeast of the intersection of Skyline Drive and Sunrise Drive. Campo Abierto, a private road that runs north from Sunrise Drive into the subdivision, borders the eastern side of the campus.
[¶3] La Paloma Property Owners Association, Inc. (" La Paloma" ) owned Campo Abierto, along with all other private roads and common areas within the subdivision. The District acquired the school site from La Paloma in a stipulated eminent domain judgment in 1994 in which the District agreed that the only access from Campo Abierto to the campus would be for subdivision residents approaching on foot. Nevertheless, after building an early childhood learning center on the property, in 2007 the District decided for reasons of student safety to condemn Campo Abierto to allow vehicular access into the school. The District's complaint sought condemnation of the road in fee simple " subject to a perpetual easement" allowing La Paloma and subdivision property owners to continue to use the road to enter and leave the subdivision.
[¶4] At the hearing for immediate possession, the District presented evidence that Campo Abierto provided the safest vehicular access to the school site because there was a traffic signal at the intersection of Sunrise and Campo Abierto but not at any other location along Sunrise or Skyline that afforded access to the campus. Accordingly, the superior court found that the " safety of children, parents, staff, and visitors will be enhanced by access to the [Early Childhood Learning] Center via Campo Abierto," and granted the District immediate possession of the road.
[¶5] As the litigation continued, La Paloma disclosed an expert appraisal that valued the relevant portion of Campo Abierto at $172,397.70 and estimated severance damages of more than $1 million. The severance damages opinion rested on the premise that because the District lacked the power to grant La Paloma an easement to use Campo Abierto, La Paloma would have to construct an entirely new replacement road into the subdivision. The District moved in limine to preclude the appraisal, arguing it was based on an incorrect legal premise. Over La Paloma's objection, the superior court granted the motion.
[¶6] In August 2011, the superior court entered a partial judgment that effectively limited the ensuing trial to the issue of just compensation. The jury ultimately awarded La Paloma $346,416, representing $290,000 as the fair market value of the condemned property and cost-to-cure severance damages of $56,416.
[¶7] La Paloma timely appealed and the District cross-appealed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes (" A.R.S." ) section 12-2101(A)(1) (2015).
A. Condemnation of Campo Abierto