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10/09/96 COUNTY ST. CLAIR v. NANCY WILSON

October 9, 1996

THE COUNTY OF ST. CLAIR, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
NANCY WILSON, ELEANOR GOETTE, EDGAR ENSLIN, PAUL HAAS, ST. CLAIR COUNTY TREASURER, AND UNKNOWN OWNERS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 93-ED-15. Honorable James M. Radcliffe, Judge, presiding.

The Honorable Justice Chapman delivered the opinion of the court: Welch, J., and Goldenhersh, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chapman

JUSTICE CHAPMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

On September 29, 1993, plaintiff, St. Clair County (the County), filed an eminent domain action to acquire 65.11 acres of land from defendants Nancy Wilson, Eleanor Goette, and Edgar Enslin, Jr. (owners). The land borders Scott Air Force Base (the base) in St. Clair County, Illinois, and the owners' property is one of about 100 properties the County has sought to condemn for the development of a joint-use airport which is to be located on the base. The central issue at trial was the fair market value of the owners' 65.11 acres. After hearing the testimony from the six appraisal experts, who espoused values ranging from $210,000 to $600,000, the jury returned a verdict of $250,000.

The owners raise six arguments: (1) the court erred in barring the testimony of a bank manager concerning offers to purchase a parcel of land near the land at issue; (2) the court erred in denying the owners' motion in limine which sought to prevent the jury from learning that the County's appraiser had previously been retained by the owners in the same matter; (3) the court erred in denying the owners' motion to strike the testimony of one of the County's appraisers because he improperly reached his conclusion; (4) the courterred in barring the testimony of one of the owners' witnesses on alleged admissions made by the county board chairman before the St. Clair County Farm Bureau; (5) the court erred in permitting the County's attorney to inquire about the possible postfiling closing of the nearby Air Force base; and (6) the owners are entitled to a new trial because the County violated its own order in limine when one of its witnesses testified to the source of funding for the property at issue.

Barring Testimony of Offers to Purchase

The owners first argue that the court erred in barring the testimony of Dan Davis, the vice president and farm manager for Magna Trust Company. Magna Trust was the guardian of the Boettcher estate, which owned 82.25 acres of vacant land immediately west of the property at issue. At the May 1, 1995, pretrial conference, the County's attorney moved to bar Davis's testimony concerning offers Davis received from third parties to purchase some or all of the 82.25 acres from the Boettcher estate. The County argued that, in eminent domain cases, data of comparable sales, rather than mere offers to purchase, must be used by courts to determine the value of property. The County concedes that in some cases evidence of offers to purchase has been admitted, but, the County points out, those offers to purchase concerned the subject property only, and the County urges this court not to extend that narrow exception.

The owners argued that evidence of offers to purchase adjacent property, which is similar in size and location and uses the same utilities and fronts on the same roads as the subject property, should have been presented to the jury. The trial court agreed with the County and barred Davis's testimony. We reverse the trial court's grant of the County's oral motion in limine regarding the introduction of evidence of offers to purchase made on the Boettcher estate property.

In an eminent domain proceeding the only question for a jury to determine is the just compensation to be paid to the owner of the property sought to be condemned. Department of Transportation v. White, 264 Ill. App. 3d 145, 149, 636 N.E.2d 1204, 1208, 201 Ill. Dec. 772 (1994). Just compensation is defined as the fair market value of the property at its highest and best use on the date the complaint was filed. Department of Transportation ex rel. People v. Central Stone Co., 200 Ill. App. 3d 841, 843, 558 N.E.2d 742, 744, 146 Ill. Dec. 779 (1990). Fair market value is the amount of money which a willing buyer under ordinary circumstances would pay to a willing owner in a voluntary sale, where neither party is under any obligation to buy or sell. People ex rel. Department of Transportation v. Birger, 155 Ill. App. 3d 130, 134, 507 N.E.2d 1321, 1324, 107 Ill. Dec. 952 (1987).

In Department of Public Works & Buildings v. Lambert, 411 Ill. 183, 191, 103 N.E.2d 356, 360 (1952), the Illinois Supreme Court stated:

"The rule is established in this State that, in the absence of evidence of actual sales, bona fide offers to purchase for cash by persons able to buy are some evidence of what the property would sell for." (Emphasis added.)

The County relies upon the emphasized language and argues that because the County offered evidence of actual sales of similar property, evidence of offers made on similar property was not admissible. In addition, the County argues that even if evidence of bona fide offers to purchase the Boettcher property were admissible, the offers the owners wanted to introduce were not bona fide.

The owners argue that Rule 703 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, as adopted by the Illinois Supreme Court in Wilson v. Clark, 84 Ill. 2d 186, 417 N.E.2d 1322, 49 Ill. Dec. 308 (1981), makes evidence of bona fide offers to purchase admissible. Rule 703 states:

"The facts or data in the particular case upon which an expert bases an opinion or inference may be those perceived by or made known to him at or before the hearing. If of a type reasonably relied upon by experts in the particular field in forming opinions or inferences upon a subject, the facts or data need not be admissible in evidence." Fed. R. Evid. 703.

Both parties rely on City of Chicago v. Anthony, 136 Ill. 2d 169, 554 N.E.2d 1381, 144 Ill. Dec. 93 (1990), for their respective positions. The owners focus on a single sentence in Anthony:

"Rule 703 was intended to 'bring the judicial practice into line with the practice of the experts themselves when not in court.'" Anthony, 136 Ill. 2d at 184, 554 N.E.2d at 1388 (quoting Fed. R. Evid. 703, Advisory Committee's Note).

The owners argue that to prohibit the jury from hearing evidence of the offers to purchase, when the appraisers testified they would have considered them in forming their valuation of the subject property had they known about them, was not "in line ...


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