“For decades, Brian Patchen and his wife, Bunny, enjoyed the bounty of fruits picked from the half-dozen robust citrus trees growing on their Miami Beach property. Then, without warning, the state chopped them all down to stumps in the fall of 2000.
“On Halloween, our trees got tricked instead of treated,” Patchen, a longtime Miami attorney, testified on Monday.
Patchen is the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit representing an estimated 100,000 property owners in Miami-Dade who believe they were wronged by the state. Depending on the outcome of the class trial, they could be eligible for more than $120 million in damages from the state of Florida for having cut down about 250,000 of their citrus trees at the height of the canker wars between 2000 and 2006.”
Heather A. Patchen, Esq. of Patchen Law, P.A. recently spoke at CLE International’s 19th Annual Eminent Domain Conference held at the Sheraton Riverwalk in Tampa, Florida on October 15-16, 2015. Addressing a group of over 100 eminent domain practitioners, appraisers, and other industry professionals, Patchen provided strategies on what to do when unique facts and circumstances affect market value, making it difficult to obtain full compensation. For a complete copy of the presentation, please click on the following link: Measuring Full Compensation Under Unique Facts & Circumstances
Based in Denver, Colorado, CLE International has been a provider of continuing professional education programs throughout the United States and Canada since 1983. Its seminars, which focus on the cutting edge of emerging legal issues of vital importance to attorneys and their clients, real estate professionals, accountants, consultants and government agencies, have received wide acclaim from bench and bar for the high quality of its faculty (all of whom are recognized experts in their fields of specialty) and its efficient organization of detailed and useful information. www.cle.com
At the recent Florida Bar Eminent Domain Committee meeting held in Orlando, Patchen Law, P.A., presented on the topic of “Moving Costs in Eminent Domain: A Mélange of Damages”. The presentation provided a breakdown of leading cases related to moving costs in eminent domain, a summary of available remedies, and a discussion as to how the 2009 Florida Supreme Court decision in Systems Components Corporation v. Florida Department of Transportation attempts to change the playing field.
For a complete copy of the presentation, please click on the following link: Moving Costs in Eminent Domain.
Town of Ponce Inlet v. Pacetta, LLC, Etc., Et Al., 38 Fla. L. Weekly D1481
Issues: Whether trial court erred in finding Ponce Inlet liable to Pacetta under the Harris Act?
Facts: Pacetta had assembled a piece of riverfront real property on the shores of the Halifax River in Poice Inlet, Florida, consisting of approximately 16 acres. The congruent waterfront property and two small adjoining residential parcels were acquired by Pacetta LLC, Down the Hatch, Inc., and Mar-Tim, Inc., between June 14, 2004 and May 10, 2006. A beneficial relationship with the Town, its counsel, its planning department and, for the most part, with its citizens developed. Approval for the project did require appropriate changes in the Comprehensive Land-Use Plan and land use development code regulations consistent with the discussions that the parties had over a long period of time. In November of 2008, when the Comprehensive Land-Use Plan was up for its final approval, the plan as originally expected by Pancetta was defeated based on a vote of the outgoing council. Suit followed.
Rule: The Bert J. Harris Private Property Rights Protection Act enables property owners to seek relief, which may include compensation for actual loss to the fair market value if its real property caused by government action, when a “specific action of a governmental entity has inordinately burdened…a vested right to a specific use of real property.” §70.001(2). The Act defines the term “action of a governmental entity” as meaning “a specific action of a governmental entity which affects real property.” §70.001(3)(d). The Act further defines the term “inordinate burden” as meaning, inter alia, government action that restricts or limits a vested right to a specific use of property. §70.001(3)(e). A vested right can be established through the application of the principle of equitable estoppel. §70.001(3)(a).
Analysis: To prevail based on the Harris Act, Pacetta was required to prove that an action by Ponce Inlet constituted an inordinate burden to a vested right regarding the use of its properties. The trial court concluded that Pacetta sustained its burden of proof because Pacetta’s vested right to develop its properties, as negotiated by the parties, was created by the application of the principle of equitable estoppel. The doctrine of equitable estoppel may be invoked against a governmental body when a property owner (1) relying in good faith (2) upon some act or omission of the government (3) has made such a substantial change in position or incurred such extensive obligations and expenses that it would be highly inequitable and unjust to destroy the rights that the owner has acquired. Verizon Wireless Pers. Commc’ns, L.P. v. Sanctuary at Wulfert Point Cmty. Ass’n, 916 So. 2d 850, 856 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005). However, estoppel should be invoked against the government only in exceptional circumstances. Watson Clinic, LLP v. Verzosa, 816 So. 2d 832, 834 (Fla. 2d DCA 2002). And, most importantly, the doctrine of estoppel does not generally apply to transactions that are forbidden by law or contrary to public policy. Montsdoca v. Highlands Bank & Trust Co., 85 Fla. 158, 95 So. 666, 668 (1923); Dade County v. Gayer, 388 So. 2d 1292 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980).
Holding: As explained in Citrus County v. Halls River Development, Inc., 8 So. 3d 413 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009), equitable estoppel can be invoked only when a property owner relies in good faith upon some government action. No such good faith reliance was established in this case. At the time Pacetta purchased its properties, Ponce Inlet’s Comprehensive Land-Use Plan expressly prohibited the type of development which Pacetta proposed for its properties. Any assurances by town officials that the Comprehensive Plan would be amended so as to authorize Pacetta’s development plans could not be relied upon in good faith by Pacetta, since town officials lacked the authority to unilaterally amend the Comprehensive Land-Use Plan. See §163.3184(4), (15), Fla. Stat. (2009) (requiring proposed change to Comprehensive Plans to be subject to approval by various government agencies). Recognition of a vested right based on assurances from town officials to amend the Comprehensive Land-Use Plan would also be in violation of public policy, in light of the public hearings and other government approvals required for Comprehensive Plan Amendments. Id.
Conclusion: Accordingly, the trial court’s order finding Ponce Inlet liable to Pacetta under the Harris Act is REVERSED.