A Marin County Rancher has been awarded $3.2 million for property that was seized by the State of California for a Highway 101 expansion in northern Novato.

Lorraine Silveira, a 94 year-old rancher, sought $6 million for her land that was seized by the California Department of Transportation using eminent domain.

During the proceedings, the State argued that property was only worth $575,000. They argued the offer was a fair and just compensation as described under the eminent domain law. According to attorney filings, despite the State’s claim that the property was worth only $575,000, Ms. Silveira was given a final offer of $1.8 million to settle prior to trial.

The dispute over the value of the land led to extensive litigation and trial. Judge Paul Haakenson in Marin Superior Court presided over the dispute between the State and Ms. Silveira.
Ms. Silveira’s attorney argued that the state’s appraisal was an “absurdly low valuation” that neglected the state’s responsibility to apply the highest value to land seized through eminent domain.

After a 20 day trial, the jury valued the land taken at $1.7 as of the date it was taken in 2012. They also awarded an additional $1.5 million for damages to the property as a result of the project.
Ms. Silveira seemed to be happy with the verdict: “We would obviously like it to be somewhat bigger, but it was a tough case for the jury. They did a great job weighing all the evidence and coming up with appropriate results.”

Further litigation on legal fees is pending. Ms. Silveira may be entitled to recover attorney and expert fees because the jury’s verdict of $3.2 million was well above Caltrans final offer of $1.8 million. Ms. Silveira is filing a motion to recover such fees.

In total, the State acquired 34 acres for the $29.7 million interchange project at the Redwood Sanitary Landfill. The project widened the overpass over Highway 101 and installed new frontage roads on both sides of the highway to create safer conditions for traffic going in and out of the landfill.

Ms. Silveira did not dispute the State’s right to take the land, but instead disputed the State’s valuation both of the part taken as well as damages to Ms. Silveira’s remaining property.
Ms. Silveria’s attorneys argued the project would disrupt roads, cattle crossing, pipelines, and quarry operations. It would also impact the property’s potential use as a lucrative winery.

This case provides a great example of what can happen when an owner challenges the State’s determination of compensation, rather than just accepting whatever the State offers. Here, the owner was able to obtain over five times the State’s offer. Owner’s should virtually never just accept what’s offered without first speaking with experienced eminent domain counsel to evaluate their case. If you are facing eminent domain, do not try to go at it alone. Get an experienced eminent domain lawyer on your side, just like Ms. Silveira did. California Eminent Domain Law Group excels at obtaining maximum compensation for California property and business owners in eminent domain matters.

You can reach California Eminent Domain Law Group at (866) EM-DOMAIN.