On Wednesday, a jury awarded Hansen's Truck Stop $2.5 million in the eminent domain case between the truck stop and Caltrans.
(We wrote about the Caltrans-Hansens case in December; you can read that story here.)
The Hansens, who've long operated a multi-faceted empire just south of Fortuna, have had notorious battles with the state agency over the years -- with old man Charlie Hansen Sr., who's gone now, leading the charge. This latest fight, which Charles "Chas" Hansen Jr. and Charlene Hansen took over after their dad died, involved the state's new interchange project down thataway, which Caltrans says was required for safety. The Hansens said the interchange configuration hurt the truck stop and restaurant -- which they closed on Christmas Eve, laying off 17 employees, following a report from the family's accountant that the business was bleeding $10,000 a month.
Earlier in the case, Caltrans had offered the Hansens $800,000 in settlement. Charles Hansen Sr. had countered with a demand for $5 million, later shaved down to $3 million.
Friday afternoon, by phone, Chas Hansen, his voice scratchy from a sore throat, sounded chipper enough about the verdict. He said the jury awarded them $500,000 for loss of the roughly 2 acres Caltrans seized by eminent domain; about $1,740,000 for the loss of property value because their access openings from Highway 101 were removed by the new construction; and $300,000 for the loss of business goodwill.
"Plus they have to pay our attorney's fees," said Hansen. "That'll be at least three, four hundred thousand."
Hansen said he didn't know what they'd do with the money yet, and that that was something he and his siblings would be discussing real soon.
And, this afternoon, Julie East, public information officer for Caltrans District 1, which covers Del Norte and Humboldt counties, offered this official statement about the verdict and jury's award:
The accident history and highway operations situation at the junction of Routes 101 and 36 warranted the building of an interchange. To build the interchange, it was necessary to acquire a narrow portion (1.7 acres) of property of the 13.5+ acre holding on which Hansen's Truck Stop and other Hansen operations were doing business. The Hansens would retain ownership of the remaining 11.8+ acres of land, which included the main portions of the truck stop. The building of the interchange also required closure of an access opening from the truck stop directly onto Route 101. The truck stop would continue to have access to and from Sandy Prairie Road, which leads directly to the new overpass near the Hansen land. Caltrans' acquisition of the 1.7 acres of property led to an eminent domain lawsuit, where Caltrans proposed to pay the owners an amount of just compensation based on what the property was worth. The owners did not agree with the Caltrans' assessment of value, so the case went to trial. The first part of the trial was held in September 2009, when Judge John Feeney decided issues purely legal in nature. The second part of the trial involved the jury deciding on the amount of compensation. That part finished up on February 9, 2011, when the jury rendered a verdict.
Caltrans would have preferred to settle the case, and offered about $800,000 to do so before trial started. The Hansen owners demanded $5 million before the first part of the trial began, an amount that exceeded even the Hansens' experts' opinions on value. Caltrans could not justify settling the case for such an amount. The owners revised their settlement demand to about $3 million after the death of Charles Hansen, Sr., but that amount equated the highest amount of their experts' testimony, and Caltrans did not view it as an attempt to compromise. Caltrans even attempted a partial settlement of undisputed issues in the case, which would have still allowed trial to go forward on the remaining issues, but the owners declined. Ultimately, although the jury awarded the Hansens a total of $2.5 million, that amount still fell short of their last settlement demand. The Hansens' valuation theory was that the change in access to their property essentially destroyed all potential to use of the property as a truck stop, or any other commercial business. Time will tell if this assessment was correct.
Caltrans received legal rulings in the first of the trial which strongly impacted the rest of the case. In the weeks ahead, Caltrans will be reviewing its options to pursue an appeal of those legal rulings. We respect and are appreciative of the hard work and attention given by the jurors in this case; they are a vital part of the Constitutional aspects of proceedings like these.