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Department of Transportation v. Riddle

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

April 18, 2017

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH P. RIDDLE, III, and wife, TRINA T. RIDDLE, Defendants.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 18 October 2016. [1]

         Appeal by Defendants and cross-appeal by Plaintiff from order entered 24 November 2015 by Judge Mary Ann Tally in Cumberland County Superior Court Cumberland County, No. 12 CVS 3993, 4714.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Alvin W. Keller, Jr., Elizabeth N. Strickland and Shawn R. Evans, for the Plaintiff-Appellant.

          The Law Offices of Lonnie M. Player, Jr. PLLC, by Lonnie M. Player, Jr., and Jennifer L. Malone, for the Defendants.

          DILLON, Judge.

         This matter involves a partial taking by Plaintiff, the Department of Transportation ("DOT"), of land owned by Defendants (the "Riddles") as part of DOT's plan to re-route a section of NC Highway 24 in Cumberland County. This appeal is from an interlocutory order in which the trial court determined how much of the Riddles' entire land holdings in the relevant area constitute the "entire tract" for purposes of determining just compensation.

         I. Factual Background

         In 2002, Joseph Riddle acquired 26 acres of land on the northeast corner of two state roads. The land was bounded on the south by NC Highway 24 (a major east-west thoroughfare) and bounded on the west by Maxwell Road. Mr. Riddle acquired the land in order to develop a shopping center facing NC Highway 24 and to develop outparcels fronting NC Highway 24 and an outparcel fronting Maxwell Road.

         Shortly after the purchase, Mr. Riddle subdivided the 26-acre parcel into seven (7) separate lots, referred to herein as Lots 1-7. In 2005, Mr. Riddle sold one of the outparcels fronting NC Highway 24 (Lot 5) to a fast-food restaurant developer. Mr. Riddle still controls the other six lots.

         Lot 1 is the largest of the seven lots at over 9 acres, and is where Mr. Riddle has since developed the shopping center.[2] The shopping center is anchored by a Food Lion grocery store and a Family Dollar retail store.

         Lot 2 is an undeveloped outparcel which fronts Maxwell Road to the west of the shopping center. Lots 3, 4 and 6 are undeveloped outparcels fronting NC Highway 24 in front of the shopping center.

         Lot 7 is an undeveloped lot, shaped like an upside-down "L, " fronting both NC Highway 24 and Maxwell Road. The main portion of this lot fronts NC Highway 24, just east of the shopping center lot, and runs behind the shopping center lot (Lot 1) and along the north side of Lot 2 where it fronts Maxwell Road.

         Years ago, DOT adopted a plan to re-route the traffic flow of NC Highway 24 from the front of the shopping center and most of the outparcels to behind the shopping center. The DOT plan called for the portion of NC Highway 24 being replaced to remain as a secondary access road.

         II. Procedural Background

         In 2012, as part of its plan to re-route NC Highway 24, DOT commenced this action[3] by filing a complaint and declaration of taking for portions of Lot 2 and Lot 7. No portions of Lot 1 or Lots 3-6 were taken. In its Declaration of Taking, DOT identified only Lots 2 and 7 as land "affected" by the taking. The Riddles responded by alleging that all seven lots constitute a single tract for purposes of DOT's taking and, therefore, should be considered together by a jury in determining damages.

         In 2014, the trial court entered an order concluding that the jury could only consider the effect of the taking on Lots 2 and 7. The Riddles appealed that order to this Court. In 2015, we remanded the matter, ordering the trial court to determine whether any of the other five lots should be unified with Lots 2 and 7 for purposes of determining just compensation. See D.O.T. v. Riddle, __ N.C.App. __, 775 S.E.2d 36 (2015) (unpublished).

         On remand, the trial court conducted another pre-trial hearing and ordered that Lot 1 be unified with Lots 2 and 7 for purposes of determining just compensation. The Riddles appealed, contending that the effect of the taking on the other four lots should be considered by the jury. DOT cross-appealed, contending that the trial on damages ...


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