Inverse Condemnation - Sovereign Immunity - Access to Public Highway - Sima Properties, L.L.C. v. John R. Cooper
Sima Properties, L.L.C. v. John R. Cooper, in his official capacity as Director of the Alabama Department of Transportation, and the City of Prattville, [Ms. 2160132, Apr. 7, 2017] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2017). The Court of Civil Appeals reversed a judgment dismissing an inverse condemnation action filed by the owner of a gas station against the Director of ALDOT in his official capacity and the City of Prattville. The trial court dismissed the claim based upon sovereign immunity, Article I, § 14 of the Alabama Constitution, and that the plaintiff did not own the property at issue due to a prior condemnation of a portion of the subject property. The Court reversed as to the sovereign immunity issue, holding “there are exceptions to the state’s sovereign immunity under § 14, one of which is a valid inverse-condemnation action brought against the state official in his or her representative capacity. If the exception did not exist, an action against a governmental authority to recover the value of property that has been taken by that authority could never occur, because, based on sovereign immunity, the trial court never obtained jurisdiction over an inverse-condemnation action.” Ms. *7.
As to the other issue, the trial court reversed finding the existence of a factual dispute as to whether the property owner’s right of access to the highway was destroyed by ALDOT and/or the City of Prattville. The Court held that the plaintiff had a property right to access the highway as an adjoining land owner. The Court quoted from Davis v. State, 346 So. 2d 936 (Ala. 1977):
The overwhelming weight of authority is that the owner of land abutting on a street or highway has a private right in such street or highway, distinct from that of the public, which cannot be taken or materially interfered with without just compensation. Access to the highway is one of these private rights and is a property right, and the interference with the right of access of an abutting owner is an element of damage.
Ms. *12 (internal quote marks omitted).
The property owner had also argued it had obtained a property right in the driveway for access from the gasoline station to the highway through adverse possession. The Court rejected this argument holding “[t]here is abundant authority in this state for the proposition of law that title cannot be acquired by adverse possession of land owned by the state or a county.” Ms. *14, quoting Taylor v. Martin, 585 So. 2d 849, 852 (Ala. 1991) (internal quote marks omitted).