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Conservation Impact of the Case: negative
Michigan Dept. of Transp. v. Tomkins, 481 Mich 184, 749 NW2d 716 (2008)
Year: 2008

Michigan LCV Analysis

This case examines whether a property owner whose property is taken through eminent domain can be compensated for the lost value of remaining land due to the environmental effects of road construction. The Court determined that “general effects” such as dust, dirt, noise, vibration, and smell which diminished the value of the property owners’ remaining land could not be compensated, and that the statute which prohibits compensation for “general effects” does not violate the clause in the Michigan Constitution which prohibits the public taking of property without just compensation.

While the Court ruled that landowners could not be compensated for general effects, their ruling was based on the plain language of the statute and noted that, while perhaps bad policy, it was up to the legislature to change the statute. The dissent would have ruled the statute unconstitutional for denying “just compensation,” recognizing environmental effects as harm deserving compensation and sending the case to a jury to determine damages.

Please remember that rulings in environmental cases are often based on non-environmental factors. The University of Michigan Law School did not participate in the rating process and takes no position regarding support or opposition for any judicial candidates.

Case Summary

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) wanted a small strip of Rodney and Darcy Tomkins’s land for the construction of the M-6 highway in Kent County. After the Tomkins refused a payment offer, the government condemned the land. Under the Michigan constitution, the government had to provide “just compensation.” The Tomkins argued that “just compensation” should include damages to the value of the remaining property caused by dust, dirt, and noise from the highway. The Court of Appeals held that these “general effects” should be included, and the prohibition on including them in the Uniform Condemnation Procedures Act (UCPA) was unconstitutional. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, holding that the UCPA is constitutional, and that the government does not have to compensate the Tomkins for the effects of the highway on their remaining land.

What Happened

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) wanted part of Rodney and Darcy Tomkins’s property in order to build the M-6 highway. The Tomkins rejected MDOT’s offer to purchase the strip of land, so MDOT condemned the property. Under article 10 of the Michigan constitution, if the government takes land through condemnation, it must provide “just compensation” to the property owner. The Tomkins and MDOT agreed on the fair market value of the land, $3,800, but the Tomkins also sought an additional $48,200 in damages to their remaining property attributable to the dust, dirt, noise, vibration, and smell caused by construction and operation of the highway. The Uniform Condemnation Procedures Act (UCPA), however, provides that “just compensation” does not include compensation for “general effects” of a project that would be experienced by the general public, including people who did not have land condemned. The trial court dismissed the claim for additional damages, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the UCPA’s exclusion of “general effects” damages is unconstitutional.

Legal Dispute

Is the Uniform Condemnation Procedures Act’s exclusion of “general effects” damages constitutional?

Court Decision

The majority reversed the Court of Appeals, holding that the Uniform Condemnation Procedure Act’s exclusion of “general effects” damages is constitutional. The Tomkins had not overcome the ordinary presumption that an enacted statute is constitutional because they could not show that an exclusion of “general effects” damages was incompatible with the meaning of “just compensation” in the Michigan constitution. The majority looked to case law from before the ratification of the 1963 Michigan constitution to determine whether “those sophisticated in the law” would have understood “just compensation” to include damages for general effects. Based on this case law, the majority argued that “just compensation” is a “term of art” that does not include general effects damages. It is up to the legislature to enlarge the scope of “just compensation” by statute if it so chooses.

The dissenting justices argued that UCPA’s provision barring general effects damages is unconstitutional and that the Tomkins should get a trial on the issue of additional compensation. The dissenters disagreed with the majority’s focus on “those sophisticated in the law.” They would look to a commonsense interpretation of “just compensation” as encompassing whatever damages are necessary to restoring landowners to the financial position they enjoyed before their properties were condemned by the government.

Judges That Ruled on this Case

Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr.

Chief Justice Stephen J. Markman

Justice Clifford Taylor

Justice Diane M. Hathaway

Justice Elizabeth A. Weaver

Justice Marilyn Kelly

Justice Maura Corrigan

Justice Michael F. Cavanagh

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