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Va. high court to look at Beach eminent domain appeal

The Virginian-Pilot
November 05, 2014
By Dave Forster

VIRGINIA BEACH

The Supreme Court of Virginia has agreed to hear the appeal of a Virginia Beach couple who hope to stop what they consider a bullying tactic by VDOT in eminent domain cases.

James and Janet Ramsey contend that the highway department underpaid for the land it took in 2009 and claimed it was worth even less when the couple fought for just compensation. The second, lower appraisal meant the couple faced the prospect of having to return nearly $160,000 to VDOT.

"It's their way to force your hand," James Ramsey said.

At a trial in February, Circuit Judge William O'Brien ruled that jurors could not hear about that earlier, higher value that VDOT had placed on the Ramseys' property. The jury decided the land, plus damages, was worth about $14,000 less than what the state had paid for it in 2009, leaving the Ramseys to repay the difference.

The Ramseys' attorney, Jeremy Hopkins, said the state Supreme Court will decide whether Virginia law allows VDOT "to continue hiding evidence from the jury."

Arguments in the appeal won't be heard until 2015. Hopkins said he has seen an increasing frequency of VDOT dealing with property owners as it did with the Ramseys. He predicted a favorable ruling would put a stop to the practice or "at the very least, it will even the playing field."

"The jury's being asked to carry forth justice but only being told half the story," he said.

A VDOT official has said previously that second appraisals sometimes find more detailed information about a property's development potential, causing large swings in the valuation. On Tuesday, the agency's chief of policy, Rick Walton, said by email that VDOT awaits the Ramseys' brief on the appeal and the court's final decision.