APPEAL FROM THE BENTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. No. CV-2011-2063-3. HONORABLE THOMAS E. SMITH, JUDGE.
Harrington, Miller, Kieklak, Eichmann & Brown, P.A., by: J. Greg Brown, for appellant.
Lisle Rutledge P.A., by: Stephen Lisle, for appellees.
LARRY D. VAUGHT, Judge. HARRISON and WHITEAKER, JJ., agree.
LARRY D. VAUGHT, Judge
At the conclusion of this condemnation case, the Circuit Court of Benton County entered a judgment awarding attorney's fees to landowners, appellees Larry Muruaga, Kathy Muruaga, and La-De, LLC (s/k/a De-La, LLC) (collectively " the Muruagas" ), against appellant, City of Siloam Springs, Arkansas (" the City" ). On appeal, the City argues that the trial court erred as a matter of law in awarding attorney's fees against it in the absence of statutory authority. The City also argues that the trial court clearly erred in finding that it assumed state liability for attorney's fees. We agree with both points and reverse.
On September 1, 2011, the Arkansas State Highway Commission (ASHC) filed a complaint and a declaration of taking against the Muruagas, stating that it was taking title to the Muruagas' real property pursuant to its power of eminent domain under the authority of Arkansas Code Annotated sections 27-67-301 to -321 (Repl. 2010). In the declaration, the ASHC stated that just compensation for the real property being condemned was $13,950, which was placed in the court's registry. An order of possession was entered on September 9, 2011, granting the ASHC the right of immediate possession of the property pursuant to sections 27-67-301 to -309. The Muruagas answered, claiming that they were entitled to just compensation for the condemned property in excess of the amount offered by the ASHC, and they requested a jury trial.
On June 8, 2012, an order substituting the City for ASHC was entered. The order stated that the ASHC filed the condemnation action, the City should be substituted as the proper plaintiff, and the ASHC was dismissed from the action. The order directed the City to file an amended complaint setting forth its condemning authority. Finally, the order expressly stated that the Muruagas consented to the substitution of the City.
As directed, the City, on January 7, 2014, filed an amended complaint for condemnation and an order of immediate possession. The City alleged that it was authorized to proceed with condemnation under the authority granted to municipalities pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated sections 18-15-301 to -309. The City sought immediate possession of the property and stated that compensation for the taking, $13,950, had been deposited in the court's registry.
The Muruagas answered the City's amended complaint. They admitted that the City was proceeding pursuant to sections 18-15-301 to -309. The Muruagas, however, denied that the amount of money in the court registry was just compensation for the taking.
A trial was held on February 20, 2014, and the jury rendered a verdict in favor of the Muruagas, finding that they were entitled to just compensation in the amount of $22,253. On February 28, 2014, the Muruagas filed a motion for attorney's fees pursuant to section 27-67-317(b).
On May 6, 2014, the trial court entered a judgment detailing the jury verdict and awarding the Muruagas attorney's fees. That same day, the trial court entered a separate order granting the Muruagas' motion for attorney's fees. The trial court found that pursuant to the authority and provisions of sections 27-67-301 to -321, the Muruagas' property was acquired by the ASHC and that the City ...