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City of Kokomo v. Estate of Newton

Court of Appeals of Indiana

December 18, 2019

City of Kokomo, Indiana, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
Estate of Audra R. Newton, Appellee-Defendant.

          Appeal from the Howard Superior Court The Honorable Brant J. Parry, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 34D02-1612-PL-937

          Attorneys for Appellant Steven C. Shockley Blake J. Burgan Chou-il Lee Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Rebecca R. Vent Katherine J. Noel Noel Law Kokomo, Indiana

          Najam, Judge.

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] The City of Kokomo ("the City") appeals from the trial court's judgment in favor of the Estate of Audra R. Newton ("the Estate") following a jury trial on the issue of damages in this condemnation proceeding. The City raises a single dispositive issue for our review, namely, whether the trial court erred when it denied the City's motion for a directed verdict at the close of the evidence at trial. We reverse and remand with instructions.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] At the time of her death in December 2015, Audra Newton ("Audra") owned two contiguous parcels of real property in Kokomo, one at 226 South Union Street ("Union Street parcel") and the other at 226 North Main Street ("Main Street parcel"). For many years, both parcels were used by The Kokomo Glass Shop, Inc. ("Kokomo Glass"), a company owned by Audra. In her will, Audra devised both parcels to her son, Bradley Newton ("Bradley").

         [¶3] On December 12, 2016, the City filed a complaint against the Estate to condemn the Main Street parcel. On that date, the Estate was the owner of record. The Estate did not object to the taking, and the trial court appointed three appraisers to assess the Estate's damages from the taking as provided under Indiana Code Section 32-24-1-9 (2019). On July 27, 2017, the appraisers filed a report finding that the fair market value of the Main Street parcel was $100, 000. The appraisers also found that the taking of the Main Street parcel would cause an additional $43, 000 in damages to the residue, [1] the Union Street parcel, for a total of $143, 000 in damages. Accordingly, pursuant to Indiana Code Section 32-24-1-10, the City deposited that amount with the trial court clerk and moved the court to grant the City possession of the Main Street parcel. The trial court granted the motion and continued the cause of action for the purpose of resolving the dispute between the City and the Estate as to the amount of damages.

         [¶4] When the City took title to the Main Street parcel, Kokomo Glass, which had operated its business from both parcels, was unable to continue operations. Accordingly, Kokomo Glass moved its business, and the Estate offered the Union Street parcel for sale. At that time, Bradley's son Wesley Newton ("Wesley"), was responsible for the day-to-day operations of Kokomo Glass.

         [¶5] On September 7, the Estate timely filed exceptions[2] to the appraisers' assessment of damages and moved the trial court for a jury trial on damages. The court granted that motion and set the matter of damages for a jury trial. Prior to trial, the City offered to settle with the Estate for $160, 000. The Estate rejected that offer. Also prior to trial, the City filed a motion in limine to exclude from trial evidence of Kokomo Glass' relocation expenses and lost profits caused by the condemnation of the Main Street parcel as irrelevant to the taking. The trial court denied that motion.

         [¶6] At the close of the evidence at trial in March 2019, the City moved for a directed verdict alleging that, while the Estate had presented evidence of damages to the Union Street property sustained by Kokomo Glass, it had not presented evidence that the Estate had sustained any such damages. The trial court denied that motion. At the conclusion of trial, the jury awarded the Estate $305, 600 in damages, including the $100, 000 for the taking of the Main Street parcel and $205, 600 for damages to the Union Street parcel. The trial court entered judgment against the City for $305, 600 plus 8% interest per annum from the date of the taking, and the court awarded the Estate litigation expenses in the amount of $25, 000.[3] Both parties filed motions to correct error, which the trial court denied. This appeal ensued.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶7] The City contends that the trial court erred when it denied its motion for a directed verdict at the close of the evidence at ...


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