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Nauheim v. City of Topeka

Supreme Court of Kansas

January 11, 2019

Charles Nauheim d/b/a Kansas Fire and Safety Equipment, and Hal G. Richardson d/b/a Bueno Food Brand, Topeka Vinyl Top, and Minuteman Solar Film, Appellants,
v.
City of Topeka, Kansas, Appellee.

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. Statutory interpretation presents a question of law subject to de novo review. When interpreting a statute, a court first attempts to discern legislative intent through the statutory language, giving common words their ordinary meanings.

         2. Whenever federal funding is not involved, and real property is acquired by any condemning authority, K.S.A. 2017 Supp. 26-518 identifies two distinct situations requiring the authority to pay relocation benefits to a displaced person: (a) when the acquisition occurs through negotiation in advance of a condemnation action, or (b) when the acquisition occurs through a condemnation action.

         3. Not every acquisition of real property by a condemning authority is covered by K.S.A. 2017 Supp. 26-518.

         4. The phrase "negotiation in advance of a condemnation action" in K.S.A. 2017 Supp. 26-518 is both temporal and contextual. To be entitled to relocation benefits, a displaced person must show: (a) negotiation resulted in the property's acquisition before any eminent domain proceedings commenced; and (b) a condemnation would have followed had that negotiation failed.

         5. Whether a negotiation was in advance of a condemnation action under K.S.A. 2017 Supp. 26-518 is a question of fact to be established by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of the evidence means evidence that shows a fact is more probably true than not true.

         6. A finder of fact should consider any relevant evidence that might reasonably bear on establishing whether a negotiation was in advance of a condemnation action under K.S.A. 2017 Supp. 26-518. Evidence is relevant if it tends to establish a material fact at issue.

         Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in 52 Kan.App.2d 969, 381 P.3d 508 (2016).

          Appeal from Shawnee District Court; Richard D. Anderson, Judge.

          John R. Hamilton, of Hamilton, Laughlin, Barker, Johnson & Jones, of Topeka, argued the cause, and David A. Brock, of the same firm, was with him on the brief for appellants.

          Shelly Starr, assistant city attorney, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellee.

          OPINION

          Biles, J.

         Whenever federal funding is not involved, and real property is acquired by a condemning authority through negotiation in advance of a condemnation action or through a condemnation action, the authority must pay relocation benefits to any person who moves from the property as a direct result of the acquisition. K.S.A. 2017 Supp. 26-518(a) (condemning authority's duties to displaced person in acquiring real property); 42 U.S.C. § 4601(6)(A)(i)(I) (2012) (definition of displaced person). This appeal seeks to define what the statutory phrase "negotiation in advance of a condemnation action" means. The dispute arises from a claim by former tenants for relocation benefits after the City of Topeka negotiated and acquired property where the tenants operated their businesses.

         We hold the statute is both temporal and contextual, so it is a question of fact whether a negotiation was in advance of a condemnation action. We reject the tenants' contention that displaced persons are owed relocation benefits anytime a condemning authority acquires real property for a public project. The statute is not that generous.

         We affirm the Court of Appeals' judgment although we see the potential evidence that might prove such a claim more expansively than the panel did. See Nauheim v. City of Topeka, 52 Kan.App.2d 969, Syl. ¶ 5, 381 P.3d 508 (2016) ("[A] displaced person must prove that the condemning authority either threatened or took affirmative action towards condemnation prior to the acquisition."). The case is remanded for the district court to ...


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