Arkansas State Highway Commission v. Sargent

Decision Date16 January 1967
Docket NumberNo. 5--4085,5--4085
Citation410 S.W.2d 381,241 Ark. 783
PartiesARKANSAS STATE HIGHWAY COMMISSION, Appellant, v. James H. SARGENT et ux., Appellees.
CourtArkansas Supreme Court

George O. Green and Don Langston, Little Rock, for appellant.

Robinson & Rogers, Van Buren, and Hardin, Barton, Hardin & Jesson, by Robert T. Dawson, Ft. Smith, for appellees.

FOGLEMAN, Justice.

On May 25, 1965, the State Highway Commission took from appellees 5.92 acres of an L-shaped tract of land at Alma near both Highways 64 and 71 for construction of a part of Interstate Highway No. 40. On December 15, 1965, a jury awarded the landowners $31,500.00 as just compensation. Appellant has appealed from the judgment on the jury verdict on the ground that there is no substantial evidence to support the verdict which it contends is grossly excessive. The argument is based largely upon the contention that there was no basis, or an improper one, for the testimony of witnesses as to values of the land.

A review of some of the rules followed by this court in such cases will indicate our reasons for affirming the judgment of the lower court.

1. The question of the sufficiency of the evidence, in cases in which the challenge is that the verdict is excessive in that there is no substantial evidence to support it because there is no fair and reasonable basis for the opinions of witnesses who testify as to value, is one of law. Arkansas State Highway Commission v. Dupree, 228 Ark. 1032, 311 S.W.2d 791; Arkansas State Highway Commission v. Carder, 228 Ark. 8, 305 S.W.2d 330.

2. In making such a determination this court must review the testimony in the light most favorable to appellees and indulge all reasonable inferences in favor of the judgment. Arkansas State Highway Commission v. Carder, supra.

3. If there is any substantial evidence to support the verdict it cannot be disturbed. Arkansas State Highway Commission v. Addy, 231 Ark. 381, 329 S.W.2d 535; Arkansas State Highway Commission v. Dupree, supra.

4. (a) The credibility of witnesses who testify concerning damages is a matter for determination by the jury.

(b) The jury has great latitude in considering the testimony as to damages.

(c) It is no ground for reversal that the verdict might appear to us to be contrary to the preponderance of the evidence.

(d) A verdict will not be set aside as excessive unless it is so excessive as to indicate passion, prejudice, or an incorrect appreciation of the law applicable to the case, even though the award may appear liberal. Arkansas State Highway Commission v. Kennedy, 233 Ark. 844, 349 S.W.2d 132; Arkansas State Highway Commission v. Carder, supra; Arkansas State Highway Commission v. Addy, supra.

5. The correct measure of market value in these cases is the market value at the time of the taking for all purposes, comprehending its availability for any use to which it is plainly adapted, as well as the most valuable purpose for which it can be used and will bring the most in the market. Fort Smith and Van Buren Bridge District v. Scott, 103 Ark. 405, 147 S.W. 440; Arkansas State Highway Commission v. Brewer, 240 Ark. 390, 400 S.W.2d 276.

6. (a) On direct examination a witness testifying about values should not be allowed to repeat hearsay statements made by others or to testify about mere offers or other matters inadmissible under the rules of evidence.

(b) If cross-examination demonstrates that a witness has no reasonable basis whatever for his opinion, his testimony should be stricken.

(c) If cross-examination shows that the witness has a weak or questionable basis for his opinion, that fact has a bearing upon the weight to be given his testimony.

(d) The cross-examining attorney, however, is not entitled to embark upon a fishing expedition with immunity from any unfavorable information he may elicit. He acts at his peril in putting a question that may evoke an answer damaging to his case. Arkansas State Highway Commission v. Russell, 240 Ark. 21, 398 S.W.2d 201.

7. (a) A witness who does not express an opinion as to the value of the property may not testify about the sale of property in the same area without any evidence being offered to show a comparison or similarity between the properties.

(b) There is no error in admitting testimony of witnesses who state values on undeveloped, unsubdivided lands, on a raw acreage instead of a per lot basis. Arkansas State Highway Commission v. Witowski, 236 Ark. 66, 364 S.W.2d 309.

8. A landowner who shows that he is intimately familiar with the property is competent to state his opinion as to the value of the land (even where he admits on cross-examination that he took into consideration an otherwise inadmissible offer to purchase part of it). Arkansas State Highway Commission v. Russell, supra.

Viewed in the light most favorable to appellees, as we must do, 5.92 acres of land were taken from a tract of land containing approximately 12 acres with a frontage of 132 feet on Ray Lane, a blacktop street, located approximately one-quarter of a mile from Highway No. 64 (from which it was accessible by way of Rudy (Maple Shade) Road and a street) and less than an eighth of a mile from Highway No. 71. The original tract was accessible from the north by Fine Springs Road and a street. On this land was located a frame dwelling house consisting of seven rooms and a bath which cost $10,400.00 when built about 1948 or 1949, a barn (with gas and water), an outbuilding, tool shed, and a pond. The topography was rolling and there was some low land but it was not too low for a house. Room for a road leading to the rear of the tract had been left on the frontage and the power line easement across a part of the property could also be utilized for a road. The owners had gas, water and electricity and all utilities are available. The highest and best use of the property was for residential lots. It was the best property for that purpose in Alma because all expansion was going that way. It was right in the center of the city where there is a lot of development and where property is in demand. The tract was about three and one-half blocks from the school, a distance more desirable than just across the street from it. It was across the street from one tract from which residential lots had been sold and within four blocks of another.

The taking of this right-of-way left about one and one-half acres on the north side in a triangle coming to a point and about five acres on the south side, to neither of which was there any access and for which there was no potential market save the possibility of sale to an adjoining owner.

The value of the tract before the taking was in a range from $31,500.00 to $37,500.00 and the value after the taking ranged from $600.00 to $1,800.00. (Appellant's witnesses fixed the value of the remainder at...

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