The Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously affirmed a multi-million dollar Bucks County verdict won by Elliott Greenleaf attorneys for a family whose farm was condemned by Lower Makefield Township to construct a municipally owned golf course. The jury award of $5,850,000 was then molded by the trial court to include interest of $936,479, increasing the total jury award to $6,786,479. Elliott Greenleaf promptly took judgment on the verdict, assuring the family of 6% ongoing interest on the molded award, which grew to an additional $769,031, bringing the total award through June 2013 to $7,555,510. The verdict is one of the largest in Bucks County history. Its affirmance addressed matters of first impression on admissible evidence of property value in a condemnation trial.
The Supreme Court determined as a matter of first impression that a landowner’s testimony introducing a developer’s offer letter to purchase a farm was admissible. The Township, at trial, objected to admissibility of the amount of that offer. Agreeing with Elliott Greenleaf, the trial court permitted introduction of the letter, including the amount of the offer, as showing both the interest level of purchasers and the scope of a bona fide offer from an unqualifiedly reliable offeror. Noting the 1964 changes to the Eminent Domain Code substantially broadened the scope of admissible evidence by providing a qualified valuation expert may refer to any facts or data and the testimony of the owners is testimony of a qualified valuation expert, the Supreme Court found that offer supported by sufficient collateral testimony and admissible. The Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion held that there was no bright-line rule prohibiting testimony of bona fide offers into evidence, and found the $8,000,000 offer both relevant and legitimate, finding, as well, it was indicative of the worth of other offers to purchase made earlier.