BOROUGH OF HARVEY CEDARS v. KARAN
40 A.3d 75 (2012)
Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.
Argued January 31, 2012.
He also relied on Sullivan v. North Hudson Railroad Co., 51 N.J.L. 518, 18 A. 689 (E. & A.1889). Citing examples from Sullivan, the judge reasoned that if a railroad project, intended to provide transportation and access to commerce for the general area, also happened to result in the draining of a swamp on a defendant's property thereby creating more usable dry land, that would be a special benefit to the defendant's property. Or, if the construction of a railroad embankment across a defendant's land also incidentally provided a retaining wall for defendant's millpond, that would be a special benefit. However, the incremental commercial benefit of proximity to rail transportation would only be a general benefit to the defendant's property. See Sullivan, supra, 51 N.J.L. at 540, 18 A. 689.
After deciding the special benefits issue, the judge decided a second evidence question. In that ruling, the judge adopted the argument of plaintiff's counsel that settlements of condemnation cases with other beachfront property owners would be inadmissible in the litigated condemnation cases.4 He therefore denied an application to introduce evidence of a $150,000 settlement in a case involving another set of beachfront property owners. The judge recognized that some owners had settled for one dollar and others had settled for much larger sums, but none of those settlements would be admissible.
During the ensuing condemnation trial, both sides' experts agreed that, prior to the taking, defendants' property was worth $1.9 million. However, the jury heard starkly opposing testimony concerning the dune's impact on defendants' ocean and beach view and the diminution in value attributable to the dune easement. Moliver, plaintiff's real estate expert, insisted that any loss of view was de minimus and was only worth $300 in compensation. During cross-examination, however, he admitted that he had never actually gone into defendants' house or out on their second-floor deck in order to see the impact of the dune on their view.
Defendant's expert, Robert Gagliano, testified that the loss of view was significant and reduced the value of the property by $500,000. He also testified that, prior to the construction of the dune, defendants had a strip of private beach on their property, whereas that land was now occupied by a large dune that they could not use for recreation. That added to the property's loss in value.
Mr. Karan gave detailed testimony concerning the 1973 construction of his family's dream house at the shore, with its glass wall facing the ocean, oceanfront decks, and sweeping views of the beach, shoreline and ocean. He also eloquently described the way the twenty-two-foot high dune interfered with that view, including blocking the beach and surf view from the second-floor deck, and transforming the water vista from the dining room into a view of a "wall of sand." The jury was taken to the property for a site visit, during which they observed the view from defendants' house.
After two days of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict of $375,000. Finding no miscarriage of justice, Judge Millard denied plaintiff's motion for a new trial. His reasons were stated in an oral opinion, supplemented by a written opinion accompanying the May 13, 2011 order.II