In most eminent domain cases, the government will deposit the pre-litigation offer with the Superior Court of New Jersey shortly after the complaint is filed. The property owner (or lien holders) is entitled to withdraw the funds without effecting his or her right to seek additional money from the government. If the property owner is successful in recovering additional money (ie., proving the property is worth more than the government’s appraised value), the government must pay interest on any additional money awarded to the property owner.
Recently, the Appellate Division reversed a trial court judge who held that the property owner was limited to the judgment rate of interest on the additional award of just compensation. The property owner wanted to present evidence of a more reasonable rate of interest, (10 year treasury rate plus 290 basis points) which was much higher than the judgment rate of interest. At stake was an additional $500,000 for the property owner.
The Appellate Division agreed with the property owner and held that the judgment rate of interest is not controlling in eminent domain cases. Rather, the court held that the trial court should have held an evidentiary hearing to determine the applicable rate of interest. The Appellate Division did not think an evidentiary hearing was not required in all cases and that under certain circumstances, the trial court can make its determination based upon certifications. However, in this case, an evidentiary hearing was merited.
This case is an important decision for larger cases where there are substantial amounts of time between the filing of a complaint and the ultimate conclusion of the case. In this particular case, the complaint was filed on March 7, 2001, funds deposited on May 3, 2001, but the award was not finally confirmed until March 28, 2008. The property owner was entitled to just additional interest which accrued over approximately 7 years.