A Roanoke judge significantly whittled down Walker Machine & Foundry’s lawsuit against the city of Roanoke on Friday, restricting the time period from which Walker can introduce evidence, but declined to dismiss it entirely.
Circuit Court Judge David Carson tossed out completely two of Walker’s six claims in the lawsuit that alleges the city harmed the century-old company with its threat of using eminent domain to take company land to complete the Roanoke River Greenway.
Carson said two other claims are of dubious viability, but he’ll allow Walker to amend them.
Most significantly, on Walker’s key claim that the city’s threat of condemnation amounted to an effective taking of their land — called “inverse condemnation” — Carson limited the evidence to the period from June 18, 2016, to the date the suit was filed exactly three years later.
That undermines Walker’s ability to cite some important evidence, including anything supporting their claim that the city in 2015 initially acknowledged they should pay to move the entire foundry to make way for the greenway, a claim the city denies.
It also bars use of an alleged statement by then-Roanoke Mayor David Bowers that the greenway would be built on Walker’s land with or without the foundry’s support.
Walker can still submit the Roanoke City Council’s 2017 approval of using eminent domain to get needed land from Walker, and the city’s purchase that same year of an abandoned rail line that bisects the foundry’s land.
Walker and the city have been at odds over the city’s plan to build the greenway across a 5 acre section of the foundry’s property along the river since 2015.
The two sides were back to negotiating and close to a deal this spring, according to company officials, until Walker filed its lawsuit, which they said was necessary to preserve that right before the statute of limitations expired.
The city’s response challenged the validity of all of Walker’s claims.
Walker’s attorney, Joe Sherman of Norfolk, told Carson on Friday that the city’s response was an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach that tried every kind of defense they could think of to end the case right there.
Brian Brydges, one of the city’s private attorneys, said Walker’s initial filing was itself a kitchen sink approach, and once you remove the faulty claims — the “dirty dishes” — there was nothing left.
Brydges told Carson the city’s action never damaged Walker’s property or its value. While Walker claims the company has lost customers and revenue because of the threat of condemnation, Brydges said, those damages are not relevant in a land condemnation case.
Any decline in property value is not compensable in a condemnation case under Virginia law, he added.
While the city bought the rail line two years ago, it was the seller, Norfolk Southern Railway, that revoked Walker’s permission to cross the tracks to use Walker’s land on the other side of it, not the city, Brydges said.
Walker’s lawsuit also claimed it was due relocation benefits under federal law as a “displaced person” because the city’s actions forced them to outsource their machining operations.
Lori Bentley, another attorney for the city, told Carson that Walker Machine & Foundry failed to follow any required administrative procedures before suing for the benefits and offered no evidence they were a displaced person.
Carson agreed and dismissed both of those counts from Walker’s suit.
The foundry also argued its constitutional rights to due process and equal protection were violated.
Bentley argued Walker has no due process claim regarding relocation benefits because it never followed administrative procedures to obtain them.
“You can’t say you’ve been denied due process when you haven’t even asked for a determination,” she said.
On equal protection, Bentley said, the company appears to be arguing that it was treated differently than other landowners who sold property to the city for the greenway without condemnation, but doesn’t mention that other landowners didn’t ask the city to spend millions of dollars to move an entire business.
Carson agreed but is allowing Walker to amend those claims. He said it was a “close call” on whether to dismiss them entirely because he has “significant concerns” about them.