RALEIGH, N.C. (Legal Newsline) – Approximately 800 members in a class action lawsuit recently won a case against the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and its Roadway Corridor Official Map Act.
The decision in the case, Kirby v. NCDOT, was made June 10 by the North Carolina Supreme Court. The court ruled that limitations handed down on property owners under the Map Act established a taking of their property. The state Supreme Court’s ruling also requires NCDOT to compensate the landowners.
The Map Act states that when North Carolina is planning for a highway project, the owners of property in the path of the highway corridor are not allowed to improve, develop or subdivide the property, even though they are the owners of the property.
“That would put some limits on the property owners,” Tony Lathrop, of the law firm Moore and Van Allen in Charlotte, told Legal Newsline.
He said the court’s decision basically held that the state cannot just take the property.
NCDOT must file highway corridor maps with the register of deeds in the county where it plans to build a road. When this happens, building permits cannot be granted to the properties within the proposed highway corridor. Also, even though restrictions are placed on properties within proposed highway corridors, NCDOT is not required to build the specific highway project.
Lathrop said the case originally was brought as a class action suit due to the Northern Beltway highway project that was planned near Winston-Salem.
The case was based on whether the Map Act and its restrictions were an exercise of the power of the police, in which property is taken because it would benefit the public or if it was an act of eminent domain.
The state Supreme Court in its ruling said that restrictions on property owners under the Map Act “are not a valid, regulatory exercise of police power.”
“The court basically held that it (NCDOT’s Map Act) was taking the property without just compensation,” Lathrop said.
He added that two previous decisions, Breoth Oil Co. v. NCDOT in 2012 and 2014, are related to the Map Act case in that they set class action jurisprudence. Both cases reassured that the trial courts held discretion concerning class action certification and the importance of determining class action certification.
Lathrop said that in the eyes of the courts, the Map Act is a “cost controlling mechanism” allowing the state of North Carolina to lower the price it would have to pay for the land that’s needed for future highways.
“Basically, the affect is DOT can’t do that anymore,” he said.
Lathrop said that individual monetary compensations under the class action settlement have not been determined.
“They sent it back to the trial court for individual damages,” Lathrop said.
“It was so big. There was so much money involved. It affects hundreds and hundreds of property owners,” he said.