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Piedmont Natural Gas Company, Inc. v. Kinlaw

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

March 20, 2018

PIEDMONT NATURAL GAS COMPANY, INC., Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
SAMUEL L. KINLAW, Respondent-Appellee.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 10 January 2018.

         Appeal by Petitioner from an order entered on 7 June 2016 by Judge J. Gregory Bell in Robeson County No. 12 SP 161 Superior Court.

          Smith, Anderson, Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell & Jernigan, LPP, by William H. Moss, for Petitioner-Appellant.

          The Odom Firm, PLLC, by David W. Murray, and Williamson, Walton & Scott, LLP, by C. Martin Scott II, for Respondent-Appellee.

          ZACHARY, Judge.

         Petitioner-Appellant Piedmont Natural Gas Company, Inc. ("PNG") appeals from an order granting the motion for a new trial filed by Respondent-Appellee Samuel L. Kinlaw ("Mr. Kinlaw"). For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On 12 April 2012, PNG commenced a private condemnation action against Mr. Kinlaw, seeking a 2.71 acre permanent easement for an underground natural gas transmission line, together with temporary construction easements totaling 1.31 acres. Both the permanent and temporary easements cross a 60-acre tract of farmland owned by Mr. Kinlaw.

         On 17 May 2013, the Clerk of Superior Court for Robeson County entered a consent judgment providing that PNG would receive the easements it sought and would make a nonrefundable payment to Mr. Kinlaw of $240, 000, but that Mr. Kinlaw would retain the right to appeal the amount of compensation for the taking of the easements in a jury trial. Mr. Kinlaw filed a notice of appeal the same day.

         The issue of the amount of compensation that PNG owed to Mr. Kinlaw for the taking of the easements was tried beginning on 7 March 2016 before the Honorable J. Gregory Bell. Prior to trial, the trial court granted Mr. Kinlaw's motion in limine, "limit[ing] any reference to any sale or sales price for any property without the Court first conducting a voir dire of the sale or sales price to determine its relevance, comparability and admissibility."

         Mr. Kinlaw's evidence consisted solely of his testimony and exhibits supporting his opinion of the amount of just compensation to which he was entitled for PNG's taking of the easements. On direct examination, Mr. Kinlaw testified that, based upon his experience and research, the highest and best use of the subject property immediately prior to the taking on 12 April 2012 was for residential development. Mr. Kinlaw further testified that, although the highest and best use of most of the property would remain residential development after the taking, the highest and best use for some of his property after the taking would be for agricultural use. His opinion was that the property had a value of $2, 400, 000 immediately prior to the taking, but a value of only $1, 670, 000 after the easements were granted. Accordingly, Mr. Kinlaw sought just compensation of $730, 000, the difference in value according to his opinion and calculations.

         During cross-examination, Mr. Kinlaw was questioned, over his objection, about the sale of a nearby property referred to by the parties as the "Snake Road property." Although Mr. Kinlaw denied knowing the sales price of the Snake Road property and denied making handwritten notations on a copy of the deed for the Snake Road property, PNG was allowed to cross-examine Mr. Kinlaw over objection about the handwritten notes on a copy of the Snake Road deed indicating a sales price of $3, 638 per acre. Mr. Kinlaw was also cross-examined about the similarity of his handwriting and the handwritten notes on the Snake Road deed. Aside from Mr. Kinlaw's property, the Snake Road property was the only other specific property for which evidence of a per-acre value or sales price was introduced.

         PNG did not offer any evidence. On 10 March 2016, the jury returned a verdict finding that the sum of $200, 000 would be just compensation for the taking of Mr. Kinlaw's property by PNG. On 12 May 2016, the trial court entered judgment for Mr. Kinlaw in that amount. On 18 May 2016, Mr. Kinlaw filed a motion for a new trial, which was heard on 26 May 2016. Thereafter, on 7 June 2016, the trial court entered an order granting Mr. Kinlaw's motion. PNG filed its "Motion for Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, or, in the Alternative, Motion to Reconsider Granting of Respondent's Motion for New Trial, " which was denied by the trial court on 11 August 2016. PNG has appealed to this Court from the order granting Mr. Kinlaw a new trial.

         Interlocutory ...


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