in the Court of Appeals 10 January 2018.
by Petitioner from an order entered on 7 June 2016 by Judge
J. Gregory Bell in Robeson County No. 12 SP 161 Superior
Anderson, Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell & Jernigan, LPP, by
William H. Moss, for Petitioner-Appellant.
Odom Firm, PLLC, by David W. Murray, and Williamson, Walton
& Scott, LLP, by C. Martin Scott II, for
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.
and Procedural Background
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.