KDDK Homeowner Clients Win Big in Town Condemnation Case

In the seminal case interpreting Indiana’s post-Kelo eminent domain legislation, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of KDDK’s clients, the Guzzo family in Guzzo v. Town of St. John, 2023 Ind. App. Lexis 11 (Jan. 19, 2023). This Court ruled the Guzzo’s were entitled to recover from the condemning Town of St. John, 150% of the value of their family’s longstanding homeplace. The Town of St. John took the Guzzo’s 8.5-acre homeplace in 2014 to transfer it to a favored neighboring developer. This Court of Appeals’ decision came over eight years after numerous errant trial court rulings, three appeals, and a legislative amendment, including a remand by the Indiana Supreme Court.

From left: Michael DiRienzo, Libby Goodknight, Scott Guzzo, Mike Schopmeyer and Bob Guzzo at the Indiana Supreme Court.

Like over 40 of 50 states, Indiana enacted its 2006 post-Kelo legislation to countermand the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005). This nationally publicized Kelo decision involved a Connecticut town that had taken Susette Kelo and her neighbors’ homes to sell to a favored local developer. The facts in this Guzzo case are similar.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision had upheld a town’s rights to “take from Peter and give to Paul.” Most states in the U.S. denounced that decision. Indiana’s post-Kelo legislation limited the ability of Hoosier governmental entities to undertake such future non-public takings. Now under Indiana’s post-Kelo statutes, if a city or town does such, they must pay 150% of the fair market value to the residential property owners and 125% to agricultural landowners. In 2019, the Indiana legislature added a Statute to clarify that the non-public taking of any property that contains a single-family dwelling not owned for resale, rental, or leasing entitles the owner to this 150% enhancement. The result of this Court of Appeals’ decision means St. John will be required to pay, with interest, over $1,000,000 in added damages for its taking of Guzzo’s homeplace, because it met this unambiguous statutory definition.

This Guzzo decision was a case of first impression in Indiana and puts a check on governmental authorities attempting to undertake Kelo-like condemnations for non-governmental uses. Kahn, Dees, Donovan & Kahn’s Mike Schopmeyer and Michael DiRienzo briefed and argued this case in the courts. They steadfastly stood by the Guzzo family during this case’s duration. If your property is a target of condemnation under a governmental entity’s eminent domain powers, know that our KDDK team has decades of experience in this field of law.

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