West Virginia Record

Friday, February 21, 2020

Supreme Court says interest was miscalculated in DOH case


By Kyla Asbury | Dec 3, 2019


CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has ruled interest was miscalculated in a case involving the West Virginia Department of Transportation-Division of Highways and condemnation blight.

The Supreme Court noted that the trial court should have calculated interest on the excess amount at 10 percent from the date of the filing of the petition, according to the Nov. 19 opinion. Justice Margaret Workman authored the majority opinion.

"We therefore find that the trial court erred when calculating interest on the $178,965 jury award," Workman wrote. "Petitioner previously deposited $3,550 with the trial court, leaving the amount of excess at $175,415. The trial court should have calculated interest on the excess amount at 10 percent from the date of the filing of the petition."

The Supreme Court partially reversed and remanded the case back to Wood Circuit Court.

The court was asked to review the trial court’s ruling that Lawrence W. Pifer and Michael E. Pifer were entitled to damages related to condemnation blight for several years preceding the filing of the condemnation petition and the manner in which the court calculated interest on the award.

The Pifers are brothers who own property in Wood County and operate a family business on their property. The fair market value of their land with improvements is $2.5 million, according to the opinion.

The DOH decided it would need to take the Pifers' land almost in its entirety as part of a planned public project involving the interchange of Interstate 77 and County Route 14 in South Mineral Wells.

The opinion states that Pifers testified that the news devastated them because they had operated their business on the property for more than 25 years. The DOH filed a petition to condemn the Pifers property in 2010 and deposited $3,550 with the trial court, which the DOH estimated was just compensation.

"As the condemned property represented only a small portion of what respondents owned, it was considered a partial taking," Workman wrote. "Commissioners appointed to ascertain 'just compensation' determined that respondents should be awarded $17,500. Both parties objected to the commissioners' report and the matter went to a jury trial."

An expert appraiser, Russell Rice, testified at the trial that the Pifers suffered $35,000 in damages each year based on reasonable market rental values.

The jury awarded $35,033 for five years for a total of $175,165 and calculated pre-petition interest at 10 percent and then 10 percent interest was calculated to the total award from the date of the petition for a total of $466,114. The DOH moved for a new trial and to alter or amend the judgment.

"The May 11, 2018, order of the Circuit Court of Wood County is affirmed, in part, and reversed, in part," Workman wrote. "We affirm its ruling on the jury’s award of damages for condemnation blight. We reverse and remand with directions for the trial court to calculate interest on the award in accordance with West Virginia Code § 54-2-14a."

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case number 18-0517

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West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of HighwaysWest Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

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