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AAA Federal Credit Union v. Indiana Department of Transportation

Court of Appeals of Indiana

July 7, 2017

AAA Federal Credit Union, Appellant-Petitioner,
v.
Indiana Department of Transportation, Appellee-Respondent.

         Appeal from the St. Joseph Superior Court The Honorable Margot F. Reagan, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 71D04-1409-PL-270

          Attorney for Appellant Philip D. Sever Sever-Storey, L.L.P. Carmel, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Andrea E. Rahman David L. Steiner Deputy Attorneys General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Mathias, Judge.

         [¶1] In this inverse condemnation case, we consider whether the trial court erred in concluding that the landowner did not have a property interest in the free flow of traffic from a particular road. Concluding that it did not err in reaching that conclusion, we affirm.

         Facts and Procedural Posture

         [¶2] U.S. Highway 31 ("U.S. 31") runs the length of Indiana, passing by or through the cities of Indianapolis in Marion County, Plymouth in Marshall County, and South Bend in St. Joseph County. As part of a larger effort to improve transportation between Marion County and St. Joseph County, in March 2002, the Federal Highway Administration ("FHWA") and the Indiana Department of Transportation ("DOT") began the process of public involvement in connection with a proposed improvement to U.S. 31 between Plymouth and South Bend ("the Project").

         [¶3] On March 1, 2004, two years after DOT's public involvement with the Project began, AAA Federal Credit Union ("AAA"), a small regional bank with branches in and around St. Joseph County, took title by deed to a three-quarter acre plot of land in a mixed residential and commercial area on the south side of South Bend ("the Property").[1] In early 2006, AAA finished construction of a branch building on the Property and has operated the branch on the Property since. The Project was completed sometime later.

         [¶4] Before the Project was completed, the Property lay at the northeast corner of the intersection of U.S. 31, running north-south, and Dice Street, running east-west. The Property had direct access by a western driveway to U.S. 31 and by a southern driveway to Dice Street. At that time, U.S. 31 was an undivided, open-access road on the same grade as the surrounding roads. However, one of the Project's goals was to improve traffic flow on U.S. 31 by converting it to a divided, grade-separated, limited- or controlled-access road.

         [¶5] The Project moved U.S. 31 to the west by a few dozen feet. It is now a divided highway divided by a grass median, bounded by a wall to the east of the northbound lanes. Access to and from U.S. 31 is now possible only by grade-separated interchanges to the north and south of the Property. The Project left the Property entirely untouched. It continues to enjoy access to Dice Street by the southern driveway. However, the western driveway now accesses Hildebrand Street, a two-lane north-south frontage road running parallel to U.S. 31, separated from it by the eastern wall. To access the Property from U.S. 31 or vice versa now requires taking more or less circuitous routes to the north or south.

         [¶6] On September 17, 2014, AAA brought the instant action for inverse condemnation against DOT. After a two-day bench trial on May 24 and 25, 2016, the trial court entered findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment for DOT. AAA now appeals, claiming the trial court erred in concluding that no compensable taking had occurred as a matter of law.

         Standard of Review

         [¶7] Where, as here, a trial court has entered findings and conclusions prior to judgment, we review the judgment in two steps. Canteen Serv. Co. of Indianapolis,Inc. v. Ind. Dep't of Transp., 932 N.E.2d 749, 571 (Ind.Ct.App. 2010). We first determine whether the evidence supported the findings, then whether the findings supported the conclusions. Id. We will set aside the judgment only if clearly erroneous, leaving us with a firm conviction that a mistake has been made. Id. A judgment that applies the wrong legal standard to properly found facts is clearly erroneous. Id. ...


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