For landowners, learning that the government intends to take their property is always a rude awakening. After receiving notice that the government seeks to acquire a piece of land, the landowner sets off on a difficult journey to try to protect the property — or ultimately receive fair compensation for it. This article outlines the complicated eminent domain process in Minnesota. In addition to understanding this process, it’s important to seek help from an experienced eminent domain attorney. An attorney who focuses on condemnation cases can become the landowner’s guide on this unexpected journey.
Stage 1: Pre-Condemnation Negotiation
Before the government can initiate a condemnation action, Minnesota law requires the government to get an appraisal and make a good faith attempt to purchase the desired parcel from its owner via a process designed to “mimic” an ordinary real estate transaction. The landowner is entitled to a copy of the government’s appraisal (and any other appraisals the government possesses) and to reimbursement for the costs of obtaining its own appraisal.
The process of appraisal and negotiation culminates in a “last written offer” from the government which, if rejected by the landowner, is followed by the formal condemnation process.
Stage 2: Petition and Hearing
If the government doesn’t reach an agreement with the landowner to buy the property, the government files a petition for condemnation in the county in which the property is located. The petition must state the area of the taking, the purposes for the taking and the names of all parties with an interest in the parcel to be taken. A copy of this petition is served on all people and entities with an “interest” in the property.
A hearing on the petition is then held to determine whether the taking is for a “public” project and to appoint commissioners. Any challenge to the taking on the grounds that it does not further a public purpose must be made at the hearing or by appeal within 60 days. Once the public purpose of the taking is established, three commissioners plus two alternates are appointed to determine the amount of compensation owed to the landowner.
Stage 3: Transfer of Possession
With one minor exception, possession and title to the acquired property passes to the condemning authority when it pays the amount of its appraised value of the taking.
Possession and title transfer by court order. The landowner and all other interested parties are obligated to vacate the parcel prior to the date the court states for the transfer of title.
Stage 4: Commissioners’ Hearing
If the court approves the government’s petition, the commissioners hold a hearing to determine the value of the parcel taken and (if applicable) the damage to the remainder of the landowner’s property. Testimony is given to the commissioners under oath, and the commissioners have a limited ability to subpoena documents and witnesses for the hearing.
Stage 5: Commissioners’ Award
Within 90 days of the appointment of commissioners (or longer, if provided by the court), the commissioners file their report stating the compensation due to the landowner as a result of the taking. The government is obligated to notify all interested parties that the report has been filed.
Stage 6: Appeal
If either the government or the landowner is dissatisfied with the commissioners’ award, either may appeal within 40 days from the filing of the report. An appeal takes the form of a trial (both parties retain the right to a jury trial if they desire). The jury or judge is tasked with taking a fresh look at the evidence and coming to an independent decision on the compensation owed to the landowner.
Further appeals to Minnesota’s appellate courts are also allowed.
Stage 7: Award
Once both parties are satisfied with the amount of compensation (or once all rights of appeal are exhausted), the government pays the landowner the amount of compensation determined, plus interest dating from the time of possession. Depending on the amount the final award exceeded the government’s last written offer, the landowner may be entitled to reimbursement of its attorneys’ fees, appraisal fees and other costs and expenses incurred in the case as well.
Navigating this process to a successful conclusion requires patience and strategy. An experienced eminent domain attorney can provide guidance to landowners who find themselves on this path and help protect their constitutional rights.