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Court sides with state in fight over land payment

HELENA (AP) - A Kalispell couple has lost their legal fight with the state Transportation Department over how much the agency should pay them for taking some of their land for a highway project.

The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously rejected the claim of Gregory and Monica Simonson that they were not compensated for the reduced value of their remaining property once the department condemned a portion of their land along U.S. 93.

The five-judge panel found no fault with the jury instructions given by District Judge Katherine Curtis or with her decision to let jurors consider the testimony of the state's appraiser. But the court said she made a mistake in ordering the Simonsons to pay the department's legal costs in the lawsuit.

The dispute arose from a project to widen U.S. 93 just south of Kalispell. The Simonsons owned property along the highway, and their house and log furniture business were located on the land.

The highway project required almost a half acre of the land immediately adjacent to the road, but the Simonsons rejected the state's first offer. The department used its power of eminent domain to condemn the needed property and a price of $23,415 was set.

The Simonsons went to court to dispute that amount. Their appraiser said the land was worth $27,315 and that the couple should be paid an additional $47,452 because the remaining land lost value when it no longer abutted the highway.

The jury awarded the Simonsons $24,764 for the condemned land and nothing for any depreciation on the remaining property.

On appeal, the court rejected the Simonsons' contention that the state's expert miscalculated what they were due because his appraisal was faulty. Contrary to the Simonsons' argument, the state's appraiser did consider the possible drop in value for the couple's remaining land and concluded no such depreciation occurred, the court said.


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