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Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency v. Nashville Downtown Platinum, LLC

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

December 8, 2017

METROPOLITAN DEVELOPMENT AND HOUSING AGENCY
v.
NASHVILLE DOWNTOWN PLATINUM, LLC

          Session October 5, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 09C-3638 Kelvin D. Jones, Judge

         In this condemnation case, a jury trial was held concerning the amount of compensation owed to Appellant as a result of the governmental taking of its property. The jury returned a verdict finding that the fair market value of the property had been over $2, 000, 000.00 on the date of the taking, and the trial court entered judgment on the verdict. Although Appellant now appeals raising several issues, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed and Remanded

          Timothy L. Warnock and Timothy Harvey, Nashville, Tennessee, and Rita M. Aliss Powers, James D. Masterman and Gregory E. Ostfeld, Chicago, Illinois for the appellant, Nashville Downtown Platinum, LLC.

          G. Brian Jackson, David L. Johnson and Renard A. Hirsch, Sr., Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE.

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In 2007, the Appellant Nashville Downtown Platinum, LLC ("Platinum") purchased real property ("the Property") in downtown Nashville for $1, 400, 000.00. Although the Property was being used as a surface parking lot at the time of Platinum's purchase, Platinum claimed to have plans to build a hotel on the Property. Such plans never came to fruition.

         On October 16, 2009, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency ("MDHA") filed a petition in the Davidson County Circuit Court to condemn Platinum's property in order to develop the Nashville Music City Center. In connection with its petition for condemnation, MDHA deposited the sum of $1, 774, 300.00 as an estimate of the just compensation that would be owed. In a subsequently-filed answer, Platinum denied that the amount deposited by MDHA represented just compensation for the proposed taking. Platinum prayed that the petition for condemnation be dismissed, or in the alternative, that a jury of view be empaneled to determine the amount of compensation owed.

         By an agreed order entered on February 2, 2010, MDHA was granted exclusive possession of the Property effective January 29, 2010. At the time of the taking, the Property was zoned "CF, " a category that imposed a height restriction of approximately seven stories for buildings. However, it is undisputed that it was widely known at the time of the taking that a change from "CF" zoning to "DTC" zoning was imminent. Under "DTC" zoning, buildings can be at least 30 stories tall. Although the trial court's February 2, 2010 taking order authorized the clerk to disburse to Platinum the deposit that had been tendered by MDHA, the order further provided that the disbursement of the deposit was "without prejudice to Platinum's claim for additional just compensation."

         Following MDHA's taking of the Property, the parties filed a joint motion for a writ of inquiry, and a jury of view was subsequently appointed to assess the amount of compensation owed to Platinum.[1] After hearing testimony and evidence from both parties, the jury of view ultimately determined that the amount due to Platinum was $2, 306, 590.00. Although Platinum filed objections to the report of the jury of view, the trial court confirmed the report by order entered on January 26, 2015.

         Following the trial court's confirmation of the jury of view's report, Platinum filed an appeal requesting a de novo jury trial pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-16-118. A number of pre-trial matters soon ensued, including the filing of several motions in limine. After these pre-trial matters were resolved, a trial was held over the course of several dates in August 2016. Upon the conclusion of the trial proceedings, the jury returned a verdict finding that the value of the Property was $2, 032, 380.00 at the time of the taking.

         The trial court entered judgment on the jury's verdict on September 9, 2016. Platinum subsequently filed a motion for a new trial. The trial court denied this motion by order entered on January 26, 2017. The trial court also granted MDHA certain discretionary costs that had previously been requested pursuant to Rule 54.04 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The present appeal then followed.

         ISSUES PRESENTED

         Platinum's overarching premise in this appeal is that the trial court did not appropriately preserve its right to receive just compensation for the taking of its land. In addition to asserting a host of evidentiary issues, which we will highlight in our discussion, Platinum raises the following issues on appeal:

■ Whether the trial court erred in denying its motion for a new trial.
■ Whether Tennessee's method for calculating just compensation in eminent domain cases violates the constitutions of the United States and Tennessee.
■ Whether the trial court erred by granting MDHA's motion for discretionary costs.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This appeal follows a jury trial. "When reviewing an appeal from a jury trial, we will not set aside the jury's findings of fact unless there is no material evidence to support them." Watson v. Payne, 359 S.W.3d 166, 168 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011) (citations omitted). We "will not re-weigh the evidence, but will take the strongest view possible of the evidence in favor of the prevailing party." Id. Further, we will allow all reasonable inferences to uphold the jury's verdict. Id. If there is any material evidence to support the jury's verdict, the verdict must be affirmed. Crabtree Masonry Co., Inc. v. C & R Constr., Inc., 575 S.W.2d 4, 5 (Tenn. 1978) (citations omitted).

         When acting as a thirteenth juror incident to the filing of a motion for a new trial, the trial court must independently weigh the evidence and determine whether the jury's verdict is supported by the evidence. Dickey v. McCord, 63 S.W.3d 714, 718 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001) (citation omitted). "If, after weighing the evidence, the trial court is satisfied with the jury's verdict, the court must approve the verdict." Id. (citation omitted). On appeal, we presume that the trial court properly performed its duty as the thirteenth juror when the trial court approves the jury's verdict without comment. Id. (citation omitted). When the trial court makes comments regarding the verdict on the record, however, we examine the comments in order to determine whether the trial court properly reviewed the evidence and was satisfied or dissatisfied with the verdict. Id. at 718-19 (citation omitted). We can reverse the trial court's judgment and order a new trial "only when the record contains statements that the trial court was dissatisfied with or disapproved of the jury's verdict or when the trial court absolved itself of or misconstrued its function as the thirteenth juror." Id. at 719 (citation omitted).

         In this appeal, we are presented with a number of challenges to the trial court's evidentiary decisions. The admissibility of evidence is within the sound discretion of the trial court. Newcomb v. Kohler Co., 222 S.W.3d 368, 385 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006) (citation omitted). As such, "we will not overturn a trial court's decision to admit or exclude evidence without finding a clear abuse of discretion on the part of the trial judge." Id. (citation omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         Evidentiary Issues

         As we have previously noted, this appeal requires us to consider a number of evidentiary challenges. As gleaned from the argument section of Platinum's brief, the following specific issues are raised:

■ Whether the trial court erred in restricting the cross-examination of MDHA's appraiser.
■ Whether the trial court erred in preventing Platinum's hotel industry expert from testifying about market trends post-taking.
■ Whether the trial court erred in preventing Platinum's architect from presenting demonstrative ...

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