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Southwestern Illinois Development Authority

April 16, 2004

[5] SOUTHWESTERN ILLINOIS DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MASJID AL-MUHAJIRUM, AN ILLINOIS RELIGIOUS CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, AND ST. CLAIR COUNTY TRUSTEE, UNION PLANTERS BANK, F/K/A MIDAMERICA BANK & TRUST COMPANY OF EDGEMONT, THE VILLAGE OF SAUGET, AND UNKNOWN OWNERS, DEFENDANTS.
SOUTHWESTERN ILLINOIS DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
RUTH MCGEE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, AND THE COUNTY OF ST. CLAIR AND UNKNOWN OWNERS, DEFENDANTS.



[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 99-ED-5 Honorable James M. Radcliffe III, Judge, presiding. Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 99-ED-8 Honorable James M. Radcliffe III, Judge, presiding.

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kuehn

[8]  A little more than three years ago, Emerson Park was an area of East St. Louis, Illinois, that suffered from the ravages of time and poverty, an area that testified graphically to the urban decay that can follow a mass exodus of commerce and jobs from a city. Many of its old houses had been condemned and torn down by city officials, leaving weeded and trash-ridden vacant lots. A few of its old residences stood as isolated reminders of a once-thriving residential area. However, they barely stood. The old houses were run down and dilapidated, all that was left of a working-class neighborhood that ceased working long ago.

[9]  Masjid Al-Muhajirum (the Mosque) is a not-for-profit religious corporation with its temporary place of worship located in the Emerson Park area. The Mosque acquired several properties, some adjacent to, and others nearby, its temporary church site, with plans for developing the area for the Muslim community.

[10]   Ruth McGee owned a house in the blighted Emerson Park area.

[11]   Several years back, Southwestern Illinois Development Authority (SWIDA), a state agency charged with the task of promoting economic development in the Metro East region of southern Illinois, commenced quick-take proceedings to condemn the properties of Ms. McGee and the Mosque. The condemnation proceedings were launched on behalf of developers who wanted to renovate the Emerson Park area and build a large, upscale housing community that would replace the slums that existed. The project made the Emerson Park area of East St. Louis, Illinois, into a nice place to live for people of varying means.

[12]   This is an appeal from the proceedings that fixed just compensation for that earlier taking. The Mosque and Ms. McGee maintain that the compensation was anything but just. They point out that the trial judge directed a verdict that fixed compensation at approximately 11 cents per square foot for the properties. They note that a square foot of "linoleum has more value than defendants' land was determined to have."

[13]   The Mosque and Ms. McGee are correct in their assessment that the valuations employed by SWIDA valued the land as practically worthless. The land may well have been worth something more than SWIDA's appraiser claimed, but the only evidence of the land's value was presented by SWIDA. The Mosque's appraisal was stricken, and according to Ms. McGee, the appraiser that she hired failed to send an appraisal to her in time for the trial.

[14]   The Mosque and Ms. McGee set forth five arguments in their briefs. However, counsel for the defendants conceded at oral argument that this case turns upon two things that happened along the path to fixing compensation for the properties. The result of the proceedings is perfectly understandable given what evidence was presented at the trial to determine compensation. Once the trial judge struck the Mosque's appraisal and barred the testimony of its hired appraiser and thereafter denied the requests for a continuance urged by counsel for the Mosque and by an unrepresented Ms. McGee, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. The Mosque and Ms. McGee were going to receive the amount of money that SWIDA's appraiser thought they should receive as compensation for SWIDA's condemnation of their property. That is exactly what happened.

[15]   We must decide whether the trial judge abused his discretion when, by virtue of his rulings, he deprived Ms. McGee and the Mosque of expert opinion on the value of their land. This question has two parts. First, we must determine whether it was an abuse of discretion to strike the Mosque's appraisal and bar the appraiser's opinion regarding the taken land's fair market value. If we decide that it was not an abuse of the trial judge's discretion to bar the landowner's evidence of valuation, we must further determine whether it was a discretionary abuse to deny the Mosque a continuance in order to secure another appraisal. We also must decide whether it was an abuse of discretion to deny Ms. McGee's request for a continuance in order to procure legal representation and an appraisal.

[16]   SWIDA's appraiser fixed the fair market value of nine parcels of land taken from the Mosque at $5,330. The trial judge directed a verdict for that amount of money. The Mosque's appraiser appraised the same nine parcels as having a value of approximately $1.4 million.

[17]   The Illinois Supreme Court has found that Rules 703 and 705 of the Federal Rules of Evidence (Fed. R. Evid. 703, 705) apply to condemnation cases. City of Chicago v. Anthony, 136 Ill. 2d 169, 184-86, 554 N.E.2d 1381, 1388-89 (1990). Whether the facts and data relied upon by a given appraiser are of a type reasonably relied upon by experts in the field of real estate appraisals is a determination left to the sound discretion of the trial court. Anthony, 136 Ill. 2d at 186, 554 N.E.2d at 1389. When appraisals are submitted, the trial court must not " 'abdicate its independent responsibilities to decide if the bases meet minimum standards of reliability as a condition of admissibility.' " Anthony, 136 Ill. 2d at 186, 554 N.E.2d at 1389 (quoting In re "Agent Orange" Product Liability Litigation, 611 F. Supp. 1223, 1245 (E.D.N.Y. 1985), aff'd, 818 F.2d 187 (2d Cir. 1987)).

[18]   A trial judge's determination on the admissibility of expert testimony is a decision left to that judge's sound discretion, and we will not disturb it unless the circumstances reveal that the trial judge manifestly abused his discretion. Snelson v. Kamm, 204 Ill. 2d 1, 24, 787 N.E.2d 796, 809 (2003).

[19]   When we look to the appraisal in question, we clearly understand why the trial judge, as a gatekeeper of expert opinion, had to strike the appraisal and bar the opinions of the Mosque's appraiser. His appraisal of the property's worth was based upon the value of the various improvements to the land that the Mosque planned to make at some undetermined time in the future. He was prepared to tell the jury that the property was worth $1.4 million because of various buildings and structures that the Mosque hoped to build but as yet had not broken ground to achieve. Apparently, the Mosque's expert felt that SWIDA should capitalize the Mosque's dreams for the land by compensating the landowner for what the land could become, rather than what the land actually was. Such a methodology would allow for any value a landowner would want to assign merely by conjuring big dreams and wishes for his or her land use. Here, for example, SWIDA would have to consider itself lucky that the Mosque only planned what it did, rather than hoping to build an edifice akin to the Sears Tower.

[20]   The trial judge did not abuse his discretion in striking the appraisal and barring expert ...


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