A Beaufort family will receive $4.41 million as compensation for a restrictive easement that the U.S. government placed on a large tract of land near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, the family’s attorneys report.
Paul Dominick and Alexandra Austin of Nexsen Pruet in Charleston represented the Trask family, which had since 1995 owned 269 acres in Beaufort County near the air base and in the flight pattern of U.S. Marine Corps fighter jets based at the station (the family had once owned the property on which the station was built). In 2016, the government filed an action to impose a restrictive easement over the land, restricting development on it or any use that might interfere with the jets.
The land included two parcels, one designated for industrial use and another for residential, that were both placed under the easement. The government valued the damage to the property at $937,000, but the family claimed that the restrictive easements devalued the property, which had been given to them by the family patriarch in his will as investment property, by much more than that.
“This was their 401(k). Their father had left them this property. They’ve got a very large family. And the idea was that eventually they would sell it off for the benefit of the heirs of Mr. Trask’s estate,” Dominick said.
The appraiser hired by the family told Dominick it was one of the most restrictive easements he’d ever seen. The family argued that the restrictions were so severe that they amounted to a total taking of their property rights.
A three-judge commission empaneled to determine the appropriate amount of just compensation for the land gave its recommendation to U.S. District Judge Robert Gergel for his consideration. Gergel heard three days of arguments before reaching his decision in April 2019, adopting the commission’s report in part and declining in part.
Gergel awarded the family $4,441,410 for the property. The 179-acre industrial tract was valued at $3,043,000, and a 90-acre residential tract was valued at $1,398,410 (the restrictions limited residential development). Gergel agreed with the family’s appraiser about the pre-taking value of the property, but sides with the government’s appraiser about the value post-taking.
“Judge Gergel’s award of over $4 million to the property owners in this case was a victory for individual property rights. Government entities may have the right to take private property for public use, but that might not overcome the legal obligation to fairly compensate the landowners,” Dominick said.
The family also sought $687,602 in attorney fees, but Gergel ruled they were entitled to only $71,150. Dominick said he anticipates both sides will appeal.
The attorney for the United States Department of Justice, Daniel Kastner, declined to comment.
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VERDICT REPORT — EMINENT DOMAIN
Injuries alleged: Reduction in value of land due to a restrictive easement
Case name: United States of America v. 269 Acres, More or Less, Located in Beaufort County, State of South Carolina, et al.
Court: U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina
Case No.: 9:16-cv-02550
Judge: Richard Gergel
Date of verdict: April 2, 2019
Highest offer: $1,091,000
Most helpful experts: Thomas Hartnett of Hartnett Realty Co. in Isle of Palms (real estate appraiser)
Attorney for plaintiff: Daniel Kastner for the U.S. Department of Justice
Attorneys for defendants: Paul Dominick and Alexandra Austin of Nexsen Pruet in Charleston