Tuesday, October 4, 2016

You Can Now Stop Drafting Those Rough Proportionality Instructions

City of Perris v. Stamper, No. S213468 (Cal. Aug. 15, 2016)

The Court of Appeal decision in this case came down more than three years ago. I wrote about it in one of my first posts. Without rehashing too much, it deals with the right to jury trial in eminent domain cases. In particular, certain valuation issues are logically dependent on whether the government can permissibly impose a dedication of land as a development condition under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Nolan/Dolan framework. The Court of Appeal held that the fact issues bound up in that determination had be be tried by a jury under article I, section 19 of the California Constitution, which affords a jury trial right as to the amount of just compensation in eminent domain proceedings.

Justice Liu, writing for a unanimous court on the issue,* thinks differently. The state constitution requires a jury trial only of fact issues that relate to the compensation. It does not require a jury for fact issues not related to compensation, or to issues of law or mixed questions of fact and law where the legal question predominates, even if they are antecedent to the valuation question. 

While the Nolan/Dolan inquiry certainly has a factual underpinning, the inquiry generally entails the application of a constitutional law framework to known facts. Because the court is scrutinizing the sufficiency government agency’s decision and its evidentiary basis, there should be little need to weigh conflicting evidence and engage in the kind of fact-finding that falls within the customary ken of a jury. Instead, the court is called upon to “decide . . . . fundamental questions about the limits of lawmaking power”—legal questions that should rest with the court. That is the case even though, literally speaking, the ultimate valuation question does, to some degree, turn on the answer to the Nolan/Dolan question. That they are “analytically prior” or “sub-issues” to the assessment of the amount of just compensation, does not bring them within the jury trial right.

Court of Appeal reversed.

*Justice Cuellar dissented on a second issue on which the court granted review—a specific and technical issue of eminent domain law called the “project effect rule.” But he concurred in the court’s resolution of the jury trial right issue.

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