Court revives RUSD lawsuit
A former Ramona landowner who says she didn’t get a fair price for her land in an eminent domain case filed by the Ramona Unified School District may get another chance at a new trial after a federal appeals court overturned a previous judgment.
“All I wanted was a fair price. I just wanted justice,” Joan Kearney told the Ramona Sentinel.
Kearney owned a 52-acre parcel where Hansen Elementary School now sits. The school district filed an eminent domain action against her in 2000. Such actions are common when a government agency uses its eminent domain power to force a landowner to sell the property with a finding that the land could benefit the public in “a greater good.”
Kearney filed a lawsuit over the price of the land the district paid her and it went to trial in 2002. Jurors awarded her $953,000 in San Diego Superior Court.
But Kearney insisted the land was worth more than that, possibly $1.4 million, and she appealed the judgment. On May 12, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a ruling by a federal judge and returned the case so she and her attorney could seek a new trial.
The school district’s attorneys presented an expert witness who stated that the land could support six to eight residential lots, but Kearney’s expert testified the land could support 16 residential lots.
The school district had performed tests indicating that more lots could be built, but did not disclose those tests to Kearney’s lawyer, according to the appeal.
Kearney said Monday the attorneys for the district “kept playing games” in not disclosing those test results to her before the civil trial. She sued the business manager of the Ramona Unified School, the law firm the district hired to handle the land purchase and two of its attorneys.
No court date has been set since the appeals court ruling was published just last week. It was written by Judge David Ezra and two other judges agreed with the opinion.
Attorneys for the school district’s law firm, and Kearney’s attorney could not be reached for comment.
The opinion did not weigh in on the merits of Kearney’s claim, but ruled on procedural issues. Kearney had appealed the jury’s verdict to a San Diego federal judge who dismissed it. The appeals court ruling returns the matter to the U.S. District Court in San Diego which may result in a new civil trial.
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