State asks judge to cut bypass verdict

The state has asked District Judge Mike Griffin to either sharply reduce the $5.8 million jury verdict for the south freeway bypass property or toss it out altogether.

The motion, filed Thursday, argues that the jury decision was excessive and that, according to testimony, the highest allowable value for the land at the junction of Highway 395 and Highway 50 up Spooner Summit should have been $3.5 million.

The trial judge has the power to throw out or reduce a dollar judgment in all civil cases, or grant a new trial.

Nevada Department of Transportation officials condemned the property in 1994 to stop owner John Serpa from building on it. The land is located where Carson City officials hope the freeway bypass will reconnect to Highway 395 and tie into the highway to Lake Tahoe. Serpa sued saying the nearby freeway interchange would have made that site a prime property for a shopping mall or other commercial enterprise and that the state grossly undervalued the land.

The jury last month ordered the state to pay $5,759,500 for the land.

State Transportation Director Tom Stephens said after the decision that that amounts to about $20 a square foot and, if the state paid it, it would "set a new standard for land values" in Carson City. He said if the state can't get some relief from the verdict, officials will have to rethink and reengineer the project.

The motion filed with Griffin's court Thursday cites Nevada law that allows either party to ask that a judgment be reduced or set aside.

"If a verdict was returned, the court may allow the judgment to stand or may reopen the judgment and either order a new trial or direct the entry of judgment as if the requested verdict had been directed."

That means Griffin could either change the dollar amount or toss the verdict out and order a new trial.

State lawyers point out in their motion that testimony during the trial indicated a much lower value for the land unless the state agreed to allow direct access to the property from Bennett Avenue. State officials have repeatedly said that that wasn't going to happen and so it could not be figured in a valuation of the property.

Serpa's appraiser valued the land at $3.45 million without that access but $6 million with it. The state's appraisal valued the land anywhere from $1.75 million to $3.48 million.

The motion asks the court to either lower the price of the six-acre parcel to $3,523,000 or set a new trial in the case.


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