By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
A lawyer for the city of Muskogee filed an appeal Friday trying to reverse a $1.95 million judgment in a lawsuit alleging private property was taken unlawfully.
Deary and Esther Vaughn were awarded the judgment after a Creek County judge “essentially entered a default judgment against” the city. The Vaughns owned property condemned and demolished by the city in 2005.
The Vaughns, doing business as Broadway Apartments, filed a lawsuit in 2007. The city failed to object to the commissioners’ report or demand a trial, which established the value of the Vaughns’ loss.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the commissioners’ report, but held “nothing should be construed as an impediment to the district court’s” authority “to resolve any controversy over the fact of taking.”
At trial, in June 2011, Creek County District Court Judge Douglas W. Golden directed a verdict in favor of the Vaughns. Golden issued the ruling without hearing any testimony, saying stipulated facts supported the Vaughns’ claim of an unlawful taking.
Golden, who was appointed to preside over the Vaughns’ case and two others after local judges recused, said city officials went on the Vaughns’ property, and the property was demolished. The issue of why the city went onto the Vaughns’ property, Golden said, was not part of his consideration.
Since then, lawyers have wrangled over the language in a final, appealable order. That order, which was filed Aug. 31, affirms the $1.95 million verdict and provides for post-judgment interest. It also ordered the conveyance of the land to the city and denies the Vaughns’ request for pre-judgment interest.
City Attorney Roy Tucker said the city is appealing Golden’s verdict regarding the taking with hopes a favorable ruling would derail two similar lawsuits that could cost the city at least $1.81 million.
David E. Anderson, a Miami, Okla., lawyer who represents the Vaughns and the two other plaintiffs, said he plans to appeal the judge’s decision to deny pre-judgment interest. Anderson said a question also remains with regard to when pre- and post-judgment interest should kick in.
“We will be asking that the interest go back to the time when the city entered upon the property with the intent to demolish the existing structures,” Anderson said. “I feel strongly that if we prevail on the issue of taking, then we will be awarded pre-judgment interest.”
The question regarding interest could be a pivotal issue in light of the fact two similar cases filed in 2007 remain pending. If the appellate court decides the interest issue in favor of the Vaughns, interest would continue to accrue while the Vaughn case is being appealed and continue to add up until a final order is entered.
Anderson said damages awarded in an inverse condemnation case filed in Rogers County grew from $12 million to more than $20 million as a result of the interest that accrued during the appeals process.
“I don’t want to delay anything longer than I have to,” Anderson said. “But there has been some consensus that if we get through one of these cases, the other two might take care of themselves.”
The other two plaintiffs who allege their property was taken by the city without notice, an opportunity to be heard or just compensation are Darwin England and Sharon Taff.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or email@example.com.