In the early 2000s , I received a telephone call from one of the nation’s leading eminent domain attorneys. It was a call that arborists only dream of getting, a call that started my fierce defense of Article 5 of the Bill of Rights. A call that spurred me to have my career revolve around it.
Eminent domain centers around Article 5 of the Bill of Rights, property rights to be exact. Our country was founded on the principle of property rights: “. . . Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”
These attorneys are highly skilled at appraising the value of anything taken by the government for public use. A road widening is a classic example of a Taking, as is building a school on private property. The most good for the most people: That is what a Taking must first accomplish before a private person’s land, or a portion thereof, can be ceased. Then the government must prove that it has made a bona fide offer of just compensation for what it has taken for the betterment of all.
The attorney was calling me because Florida was beginning its fight against citrus canker, a foreign bacteria that causes citrus to drop from trees before it is ripe and marketable. From about the late ’80s through the early ’90s, Florida spent millions of dollars destroying affected or potentially affected citrus trees.
However, in 1995, the canker was again detected in South Florida, so officials began a new fight. Frustrated and fearful that the state’s signature crop would be eradicated, in 2000 the state brought to bear a new drastic measure that required the destruction of any citrus tree within 1900 feet of a plant affected by the canker. Soon, hundreds of thousands of healthy trees went on the chopping block. The homeowners were given a gift card to local big-box stores to replace their mature citrus trees with a 3-gallon-size citrus plant.
The phone call to me began the legal fight some 20 years ago. The first step was to determine if a Taking had actually occurred. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that in fact a Taking had occurred, which set the stage for a class action suit.
But before the matter could be tried in courts of law, a formula had to be developed to place a value on each of the hundreds of thousands of trees that had been destroyed.
Creating a new formula
That assignment fell to me and my staff. I developed a new formula for appraising each of the subject trees that withstood vigorous cross-examination in numerous depositions and trials.
In August 2019, the state of Florida put $42,500,000 into its budget to pay the just compensation for the citrus trees that had been removed as a Taking. While Florida’s signature crop still remains at high risk, thousands of Florida homeowners whose trees were cut down in what was determined to be a legal Taking without compensation have finally received their just compensation.
It was an unbelievable assignment all those years ago, and although there are more trials to be heard about this issue in South Florida, I was and am pleased to have been a part of this landmark class-action lawsuit decision.
(Picture by Erwan Hesry via Unsplash)