Appeal from Grant district court, TOM R. SMITH, judge.
1. In cases where the constitutionality of a statute is questioned, such constitutional challenges are questions of law over which this court has unlimited review. The constitutionality of a statute is generally presumed, all doubts must be resolved in favor of its validity, and before a statute may be struck down, it must clearly appear that the statute violates the Constitution.
2. The reserved powers doctrine operates as a restriction upon the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution: "No state shall . . . pass any . . . Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts . . . ." U.S. Const. art. I, § 10.
3. The reserved powers doctrine requires a determination of a State's power to create irrevocable contract rights in the first place, rather than an inquiry into the purpose or reasonableness of the subsequent impairment. In short, the Contract Clause does not require a state to adhere to a contract that surrenders an essential attribute of its sovereignty.
4. The State's power of eminent domain is one of the essential attributes of its sovereignty. No State entity may enter into a contract that limits the State's exercise of that power, and any conditions described in such a contract are subject to the State's exercise of that power.
5. It is elementary that the legislature possesses no power to authorize the appropriation of one's property for a private use or purpose, but it is equally well settled that the right to take private property for a public use is inherent in the state, and that the legislature may authorize the acquisition and appropriation of private property for a public use provided the owner is compensated therefor.
6. Our legislature has deemed that it is in the public interest for a school district to protect its public investment against a reversionary interest by authorizing condemnation of the reversionary interest. The requirement that a taking be made for a "public purpose" is fulfilled by the two conditions set forth in K.S.A. 72-8212a(b) relating to the substantial improvements and duration of ownership.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Davis, J.
Young Partners, LLC (Young) obtained an injunction against Unified School District No. 214 of Grant County (the school district) to stop the school district's eminent domain action against Young's reversionary interest in property owned by the school district. The district court held that the school district's eminent domain action under K.S.A. 72-8212a(b) impaired prior contractual obligations and thus violated the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution: "No State shall . . . pass any . . . Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts . . . ." U.S. Const. art. I, § 10. The school district appeals, and we reverse and remand.
The district court's decision was based on a statement of 22 facts with accompanying exhibits stipulated by the parties. Those facts establish that in 1947, Richard and Virginia Wilks transferred the following tract of land by general warranty deed to School District No. 43, the predecessor of USD No. 214:
"A tract of land located in the Southeast corner of the Southwest Quarter (SW 1/4) of Section Thirty-two (32), Township Twenty-Eight (28) South, Range Thirty-five (35) West of the Sixth P.M. Grant County, Kansas, described as follows: Beginning at the North line of U.S. Highway number 160 and on the East line of said Southwest Quarter (SW 1/4); thence North 417. 5 feet; thence West 417.5 feet; thence South 417.5 feet; thence East 417.5 feet to the place of beginning, the above described tract to contain four acres more or less. (Real Property)"
The deed contained a reversionary clause, providing that the transferred real property was "to be used for school purposes only, and if therefore abandoned at any time, to revert back to the owner or owners of the Southwest Quarter of Section 32, Township 28 South, Range 35, Grant County, Kansas; and therefore to become her or his property without further legal action." From the time of the transfer to the present, the school district has also owned the land directly east of the 4 acres described above.
Over the next several decades, the school district constructed various improvements on the real property conveyed by the Wilks, including a school building in 1947, a gymnasium with additional classroom space in 1957, and a house and garage sometime after the construction of the gymnasium. The school and gymnasium encroach onto the eastern tract owned outright by the school district approximately 6 feet, 7 inches. The house and garage are located entirely on the property conveyed by the Wilks.
The school district does not currently use the school building, known as Red Rock School, for classroom instruction. However, the buildings constructed on the property are used for the following purposes:
"A) Annually a 'Reality Check' program is held at the Red Rock School in which 120 to 130 students participate. The students participating are freshmen at Ulysses High School.
"B) The Southwest Plains Regional Service Center (a consortium of all of the southwest Kansas school districts) has maintained in the Red Rock school facility one office (and sometimes two), for educational consultants.
"C) An educational consultant with the Southwest Plains Regional Service Center has maintained for a number of years (including the present school year) an office within the Red Rock school system. In connection therewith he has held seminars particularly aimed at enhancing the educational expertise of teachers in the education of migrant students.
"D) The house is occupied by a school district employee.
"E) The Ulysses Community Learning Center operated, until recently, from the Red Rock school building. The 'Ulysses Community Learning Center' took individuals who had not graduated from high school, taught them high school courses, and eventually those individuals received a high school degree issued by USD 214. Said degree is equivalent to the degree issued to normally graduating students.
"F) In addition, there are other uses of the Red Rock facility made from time to time by other educational entities."
Although the school district no longer conducts classroom activities on the property, it continues to maintain all facilities in working order at a cost of roughly $11,500 per year. In addition, the school district recently replaced a well pump on the property. An appraisal of the property conducted in May 2004 valued the property at $500 per acre, with the improvements valued at more than $100,000. The school district estimates that it would cost in excess of $1.4 million to replace the improvements on the property.
Young acquired the Wilks' property in 1997, making it the successor in interest to the grantors in the original warranty deed. Young has never taken any action to interfere with the school district's use of the property and does not intend to interfere with the school district's use of the property in the future.
In August 2005, the school district initiated condemnation proceedings against Young pursuant to K.S.A. 72-8212a in order to obtain by eminent domain Young's reversionary interest. The statement of stipulated facts lists five purposes that the school ...