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Eminent Domain in Wyoming Explained

Few issues evoke such strong opposition as the taking of private land through eminent domain for a public use. When it comes to eminent domain, the government is playing in their arena; they do this every day. They know what the rules are, they know how the rules affect them and they know how the rules affect property owners. If the government is taking your land, make sure that you become informed so that you know what you can and cannot do.

Your initial question might be, can I stop the process? In most cases, you won’t be able to prevent the government from acquiring your land, but you are entitled to just compensation under eminent domain law. Learn more about eminent domain generally and what you’re entitled to receive, or continue reading through our tabs and pages to learn about the Wyoming eminent domain process, your rights as a property owner and hiring a Wyoming eminent domain attorney.

We are a nationwide eminent domain law firm with experience handling cases in Wyoming and elsewhere around the country. We only represent property owners, never the condemning authority or government.

Did you know that in Wyoming your attorney’s fees are paid for by the government if the statutory threshold is met? Even small claimants might be able to hire an attorney to help them pursue just compensation. We discuss further down this page.

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Wyoming Eminent Domain Process

In the state of Wyoming, the eminent domain process can only be stopped if the proposed taking does not meet the requirements for public purpose or public necessity. If you have determined that the proposed taking does meet these requirements, then you should learn more about the Wyoming eminent domain process.

Remember, even if the government has the right to condemn your property, they cannot dictate the price they are willing to pay; compensation is determined by the highest and best use laws for your property.

Wyoming Property Rights

The eminent domain abuse dialogue often centers on policy issues involving the right to take property for economic development and blight. Since the landmark case of Kelo v. City of New London in 2005, many states have taken measures to help curb eminent domain abuse. Some states were very successful at passing meaningful reform, and other states failed to pass any legislation at all. Most states fall in the middle by passing legislation that looks good on paper but does little to level the playing field between property owners and the government.

Since the decision by the United States Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London many states across the country have taken measures to help protect the rights of private ownership.  The controversial Kelo decision held that a local government can take the private property of one person and give it to another private entity.  While the Court’s ruling was seen by many as a serious blow to citizen’s constitutionally protected rights of private property ownership, the decision prompted a number of states to initiate legislative reform to help curb eminent domain abuse.

The Castle Coalition has released a report, grading each of the states based on their efforts to protect private property owners and their rights based on changes in their respective state laws.  The Castle Coalition is the Institute for Justice’s nationwide grassroots property rights activism project that teaches home and small business owners how to protect themselves and stand up to abuse by governments and developers who seek to use eminent domain to take private property for their own gain. The Castle Coalition gave a letter grade of a “B” to the state of Wyoming for property rights.

In 2007, House Bill 124 was passed in Wyoming, which requires the government to make a good faith attempt at negotiations prior to condemning private property. In addition, this bill states that private property can only be condemned if it the intended use falls under the public use definition in the state constitution, thus eliminating private party transfers. Now, private property transfers are only allowed if the property is considered a threat to public health and safety, and those properties must be evaluated and deemed threatening on an individual basis.

House Bill 124 also put a ten year limit on condemned property, stating that if after ten years the property has not seen substantial use, the former owner may re-purchase the property for the original amount of compensation received.

Wyoming Attorney Fee Recovery and Hiring an Attorney

In 2013, two states passed legislation requiring the condemning authority to pay a property owner’s attorneys fees if the amount of just compensation determined by the courts is greater than the amount offered by the government or condemning authority.

Arkansas was the first state in 2013 to pass this type of legislative reform and Wyoming was the second state.  For Wyoming landowners, Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-26-509 now states that if the court or jury finds that the amount of just compensation exceeds the condemning authority’s offer by 15% or more, then the government or condemning authority shall reimburse the landowners for their litigation expenses.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again.  The most blatant eminent domain abuse occurs when the condemning authority makes “low ball” offers.  This scenario invariably requires the property owner to hire an attorney to pursue a claim on their behalf.  Although a property owner might be successful at pursuing an additional damages claim, they are not entirely happy when a portion of that claim must be paid to the attorney.

This legislation should motivate the condemning authority in Wyoming to negotiate honestly with property owners and their attorneys, and even avoid low ball offers to begin with, because they can now be liable for the attorney’s fees incurred by the property owner.  Additionally, Wyoming’s legislation doesn’t appear prejudicial against small claimants, so land owners pursuing significantly more than the offer (100% or more) with relatively small dollar amounts should be able to secure quality legal representation in order to obtain just compensation.

Although the statute identifies a specific threshold that must be met in order to trigger the reimbursement of fees, the courts have yet to interpret the statute.  Will property owners be able to recovery fees on both an hourly and contingent fee basis?  Will the courts limit the attorney’s hourly rate for recovery?  How will they define ‘litigation expenses’?  Will that include all costs incurred?

Wyoming would go a long way in leveling the playing field between property owners and the government if they interpreted the statute liberally in favor of property owners.  The US Supreme Court has consistently held in condemnation cases, that the government’s obligation is to “put the owner in as good a position pecuniary as if the use of their property had not been taken” Monongahela Nav. Co. v United States, 148 U.S. 312 (1893); Phelps v. United States, 274 U.S. 341 (1927); Olson v. United States, 292 U.S. 296 (1934).   That is, property owners should receive fair and just compensation and not be at any financial loss resulting from the government’s action to seize their property.

The most blatant form of eminent domain abuse occurs when the government or condemning authority makes a ‘low ball’ offer. This scenario invariably requires the property owner to hire an attorney to obtain just compensation. Fortunately, the vast majority of eminent domain attorneys work on a contingent fee basis, meaning they charge a percentage of the additional money they obtain for the property owner. Also, Wyoming has passed legislation requiring the condemning authority to pay the property owner’s attorneys fees and costs in eminent domain cases if certain criteria are met.

Pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-26-509, if a court or jury finds that the fair market value of the property sought by the condemnor is more than one hundred fifteen percent (115%) of the final offer, the condemnor shall reimburse the condemnee for all reasonable litigation expenses incurred after the condemnee’s receipt of the final offer.

Also, if the final judgment is that the property cannot be acquired through eminent domain, or if the proceeding is abandoned by the condemning authority, then reasonable fees may be awarded (Wyoming § 16-7-116). Additionally, if the property owner prevails in an inverse condemnation case, the court may award reasonable fees to the property owner (Wyoming § 16-7-117). Because of the protections provided by these statutes, even small claimants in Wyoming may be able to hire an attorney to pursue their claim.

Very few attorneys can claim expertise in the area of eminent domain law. To determine if you have a case, make sure you consult with an eminent domain trial attorney who can effectively identify damages and select the necessary experts. Your attorney should also be able to interface with the condemning authority and be willing to take your case to trial if negotiations can not be reached. 

Summary

The state of Wyoming has seen immense reform since Kelo v. City of New London, all of which was seen in one bill. With the state’s definition of public use clearly defined and tightened, private party transfers have been effectively eliminated.

Additionally, the ten-year time frame on condemned property usage, coupled with the re-purchase policy on condemned property ensures protection for property owners. If these changes were made as part of the state’s constitution, then property owners would see unassailable protection. Click to read more about House Bill 124.

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Questions about Wyoming Eminent Domain Law or if you’re interested in a free consultation, contact us today! If you want to call us, our main number is 866-339-7242. We look forward to hearing from you.