Court questions state eminent domain law
UDOT case • Taking more land than a project needs will get a closer look.
Published: June 24, 2014 07:48PM
Updated: June 27, 2014 07:38PM

The Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a closer look at whether the Utah Department of Transportation violated the Utah Constitution by condemning more land than it actually needed for a road project.

Justices sent the case back to 3rd District Court saying Judge Todd M. Shaughnessy failed to look at that constitutional question in his decision siding with UDOT based on state laws governing eminent domain.

It comes in a case filed by Michael Carlson, who owned land that UDOT said it needed for expansion of 11400 South in Draper and construction of Utah Transit Authority’s Draper TRAX line.

Carlson owned about 15 acres, and UDOT needed only 1.2 acres for the projects. However, the agency sought to condemn all of it, the court said, “to avoid the cost and inconvenience” of litigating how a partial taking would decrease the value of the remaining property.

The Supreme Court also noted that UDOT planned to sell the remainder of the land “or exchange it for other property needed for highway purposes.”

Justice Thomas Lee wrote the unanimous opinion for the high court, saying justices agree that state law expressly allows such action by UDOT. But it said the lower court did not directly address assertions that the law violates the state constitution, which allows property to be taken only for “public use.”

“Carlson’s constitutional claim raises difficult questions without any clear answers in applicable precedent,” the opinion said. It added those questions had not been addressed fully in arguments to the Supreme Court, which focused mostly on the state law.

So it ordered the lower court to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the law to build a more substantial factual record on the issue. It said a lower court rehearing would also allow UDOT to better define the “public use” involved in taking more land than it needs.