Sheridan Drive-In Theatre, Inc. v. State

Decision Date16 August 1963
Docket NumberNo. 3135,DRIVE-IN,3135
Citation384 P.2d 597
PartiesSHERIDANTHEATRE, INC., Appellant (Plaintiff below), v. STATE of Wyoming, J. R. Bromley, as State Highway Superintendent of Wyoming, and State Highway Commission of Wyoming, Appellees (Defendants below).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

R. G. Diefenderfer, and Richard H. Bennett, Sheridan, for appellant.

Norman B. Gray, Atty. Gen., Glenn A. Williams, Asst. Deputy Atty. Gen., and Robert C. Kelly, Special Asst. Atty. Gen., Cheyenne, for appellees.


Mr. Justice McINTYRE delivered the opinion of the court.

This is an action in inverse eminent domain in which the plaintiff, Sheridan Drive-in Theatre, Inc., has sued for damages from the State of Wyoming for an alleged damaging of its outdoor Starlight Theater property. The claim grows out of construction of a new highway--U. S. Interstate Highway 90. Although none of claimants property was taken for the highway, it is contended lights from passing automobiles on the highway, at nighttime, make it undesirable for the property to be used any longer as a theater.

A claim of damages in the amount of $16,435.98 for decrease in the market value of the property was made under the provisions of Art. 1, § 33, Wyoming Constitution, which reads:

'Private property shall not be taken or damaged for public or private use without just compensation.'

The case was tried to a jury in the District Court of Sheridan County. At the end of plaintiff's evidence a verdict was directed by the court in favor of the state and against the claimant, and judgment thereon was entered. The theater company has appealed.

Plaintiff's theater was never operated after the summer of 1958, and Highway 90 was not opened for traffic until October 22, 1960. However, there was testimony tending to show that flashes of light from the highway made the property undesirable for open-air theater operations and that plaintiff's business at this location was abandoned partially on account of the construction and subsequent use of Highway 90. There was also testimony in which witnesses undertook to fix a lessened market value on plaintiff's property after the highway improvement.

The trial court, according to its decision, considered the case one in which the property owner had to assume the ordinary hazards of traffic conditions. It also found the damages, if any, to be speculative and conjectural and such that there would be no way of presenting the matter to the jury.

In Morrison v. Cottonwood Development Co., 38 Wyo. 190, 266 P. 117, 123, recognition was given to the fact that injury to a business conducted upon lands taken under eminent domain has been generally held by the courts not to constitute an element of just compensation, unless a statute expressly allows it. Of course, we have no such statute.

On that subject, the idea is expressed in 4 Nichols, Eminent Domain, § 13.3 , p. 443 (Revised 3d Ed.), that the business conducted upon land has no determinative influence upon its market value, except insofar as it illustrates one of the uses to which the land may be put. This is followed with a statement that the general rule in this country is that such business and the fruits thereof are 'too uncertain, remote and speculative' to be used as the criterion of the market value of the land upon which such business is conducted.

If the rule so stated is indeed the general rule in this country, then the trial court was entirely correct in holding that the damages claimed by the owner in this instance were too speculative and conjectural to form the basis for an award. Actually, it was agreed by stipulation in the case that the element of financial profit or loss of the Starlight Theater had no bearing on plaintiff's cause of action and that the measure of damages, if any, would be the difference between the market value of the property immediately before and after October 22, 1960.

We fail to see how, without pure speculation and conjecture, a difference in the market value can be asserted or claimed under the circumstances of this case. It is represented to us by counsel for the claimant that the Starlight property was purchased by a family corporation, which also owned and operated other theater properties, for reasons of economic betterment, 'protection against competition' and other inducements.

One of the officers of the corporation testified members of his family owned the Skyline drive-in theater; that they had discovered from operating in 1958 it would be more economical to operate one of the two drive-ins, either the Skyline or the Starlight; that actually they were more favorable to operating the Starlight but because of the proposed highway change operated the Skyline instead. This witness, who incidentally was the only member of the plaintiff-corporation to testify, was questioned and gave answer as follows:

'Q. Well, I'm not satisfied with your answer. Then, was it a matter of economics rather than the highway that caused you to close the Starlight as of that time and continue to operate the Skyline? A. Well, I think I have answered that 'yes'. * * *'

This testimony alone shows how impossible it would be for a jury to tell how much, if any, the market value of plaintiff's property was influenced by the highway and how much the difference in market value, if any, was caused by a 'matter of economics.' There was no evidence indicating that the Sheridan area needed and would support a drive-in theater in addition to the Skyline, or if so that plaintiff's property was the only suitable property for such a business.

In the absence of proof that this property had a special advantage and hence an added value because of its suitability for a business likely to succeed and be profitable, all opinions expressed as to a difference in market value before and after the opening of Highway 90 would be mere speculation and conjecture. Moreover, it was not claimed by any of the witnesses that direct claimed by any of the witnesses that direct with a showing of pictures on plaintiff's land, but rather that 'side light' from a distance of 650 to 900 feet or more would be bothersome.

On the whole, we fail to see anything but guesswork in plaintiff's attempt to show a lessened market value of its property, especially since no theater business was conducted on the land after the highway was in use. No direct evidence of interference or the extent of interference from traffic lights was or could be shown. A jury could not be expected to fix a before and after market value based solely...

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12 cases
  • Page County Appliance Center, Inc. v. Honeywell, Inc., 83-182
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • 14 Marzo 1984
    ...186, 294 N.E.2d 473 (1973); Amphitheaters, Inc. v. Portland Meadows, 184 Or. 336, 198 P.2d 847 (1948); Sheridan Drive-In Theatre, Inc. v. State, 384 P.2d 597 (Wyo.1963). Several of those cases are distinguishable both on facts and by the way the issue was We cannot equate the rare outdoor t......
  • Blue Ink, Ltd. v. Two Farms, Inc.
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 30 Julio 2014
    ...on these authorities, the court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the nuisance count. Id.; see also Sheridan Drive–In Theatre, Inc. v. Wyo., 384 P.2d 597, 600–01 (Wyo.1963) (affirming the trial court's directed verdict in favor of the defendant on Sheridan Drive–In Theatre's private n......
  • Belmar Drive-In Theatre Co. v. Illinois State Toll Highway Commission
    • United States
    • Illinois Supreme Court
    • 23 Mayo 1966' (See also: Amphitheaters Inc. v. Portland Meadows, 184 Or. 336, 198 P.2d 847, 5 A.L.R.2d 690; Sheridan Drive-in Theater, Inc., v. State of Wyoming, Wyo., 384 P.2d 597; Wright v. Commonwealth, 286 Mass. 371, 190 N.E. 593; Prosser on Torts, 2d ed., chap. 14, p. 396.) Again, it is stat......
  • Coronado Oil Co. v. Grieves, 5571
    • United States
    • Wyoming Supreme Court
    • 15 Marzo 1982
    ...injury to a business conducted on lands taken does not constitute an element of just compensation. See also, Sheridan Drive-In Theatre, Inc. v. State, Wyo., 384 P.2d 597, 599 (1963), holding that the damage for compensation to be made is a damage to the property itself; the property must su......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • FNREL - Special Institute Regulation and Development of Coalbed Methane (FNREL)
    • Invalid date
    ...& Hotshot. Inc. v. Bromley, 699 P.2d 299 (Wyo. 1985); Hein v. Lee, 549 P.2d 286 (Wyo. 1976); Sheridan Drive-in Theatre. Inc. v. State, 384 P.2d 597 (Wyo. 1963). [71] Timmons v. Reed, 569 P.2d 112 (1977). [72] Hein v. Lee, 549 P.2d 286 (Wyo. 1976); Sheridan Drive-in Theatre. Inc. v. State, 3......

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