As federal stimulus money begins to trickle down to our community, new infrastructure projects are beginning to break ground. One of the stipulations local governments must meet in order to qualify for federal funds is to have proposed projects "shovel ready." In the rush to get the public works projects underway, the government often times speeds through condemnation proceedings, thus possibly violating your rights as a property owner. Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you have a right to receive fair compensation from the government in the event that it seizes your private property for public use. Sometimes the government can abuse this power by taking your property so quickly that you may lose your chance to exercise your right to receive a fair price for the property. For this reason, it is important that you be familiar with the process and rules on how to challenge a condemnation.
In short, a condemnation is a process where the government or government actor takes private land for public use. The government gives the landowner a Notice of Taking and the price the government considers fair to pay for the land. If the landowner chooses, he or she can appeal the condemnation or the price the government offered to pay for the land. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently held that a condemnee has only 30 days to appeal a Notice of Taking after it is received.
In Cedartown North Partnership, LLC v. Georgia Department of Transportation the Court held that a person who waited 34 days to appeal a Notice of Taking could not appeal the condemnation even if the attorney for the condemnor had made misleading statements on when the deadline to appeal occurred. Cedartown North Partnership, LLC v. Georgia Department of Transportation, 296 Ga. App. 54 (Ga. Ct. App. 2009). In Cedartown, the condemnor's attorney, Crawford, served the agent of the condemnee, Slaughter, with a Notice of Taking. The condemnee's attorney, Astin, asked Crawford if he had served Slaughter with the Notice of Taking, and Crawford said no. After the 30 day appeal limit had expired, Astin learned that Slaughter had indeed been served with a Notice of Taking and quickly filed an appeal to the terms of the Notice. The trial court denied the appeal because the 30 day limit to appeal the Notice had passed. The condemnee appealed the ruling, arguing they would have appealed on time had they not been misled by Crawford, the condemnor's attorney.
The Georgia Court of Appeals denied the appeal, ruling that O.C.G.A. § 32-3-14 does not allow a court to extend the period of appeal for any reason. "The period within which an appeal may be filed in a condemnation proceeding is fixed by statute, and the trial court has no discretion to extend the time." Id at 56. The Court also ruled that there was no evidence Crawford, the condemnor's attorney, intentionally misled the condemnee.
The case above means that a property owner has a strict limit of 30 days to appeal a Notice of Taking. If a property owner misses the 30 day deadline, he is forced to accept whatever the government offers to pay for the seized property. In this day and age of government seizures and public works programs, it is important to be informed of your rights and to exercise them before time runs out. If you are facing a condemnation and have questions concerning the process, or believe you are not being offered a fair amount of money for your property, please consider calling Coleman and Chambers. Our experienced and specialized staff will work in a timely and efficient manner to protect your property rights.