For federally authorized projects involving eminent domain actions,
the rights of property owners to recover their relocation expenses are
clearly stated in the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property
Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, as amended. At the state and local level,
regulations tend to mirror the Uniform Act but often vary in crucial details.
Reimbursement for relocation expenses is handled separately from
the eminent domain process. When disputes arise regarding relocation
assistance, an understanding of the appeals process is vital.
BY KINNON W. WILLIAMS, ESQ.
What to expect and how to prepare
What is a relocation appeals case? In simple terms, it is an appeal of an
administrative decision, usually based on recommendations made by a relocation
agent working for an agency or utility regarding the extent of benefits provided to
people or businesses displaced by a right of way project.
In relocation appeals cases, disputes most often center on eligibility for benefits
or the extent of benefits provided. Although a great deal of deference is usually
given to an agency’s determination, the law recognizes that there can be legitimate
disagreements when it comes to unique areas of benefits eligibility or the degree to
which expenditures for certain benefits are reasonable and necessary. This makes
an understanding of the Uniform Act crucial to the process. Familiarity with the
Administrative Procedure Act (APA) is also important, as it governs the way in
which federal administrative agencies propose and establish regulations, and sets
up a process for review agency decisions. A similar Model State Administrative
Procedure Act was promulgated by the National Conference of Commissioners on
Uniform State Laws, and a majority of states have adopted, at least in part, some
version of the Model APA.
The decision to grant or deny an
appeal will typically rest with a hearing
examiner or a panel of arbitrators. Most
often, a single examiner will preside
over a case. Tasked with ensuring
decisions made by agencies and utilities
are consistent with the law, a hearing
examiner’s job is to provide a fair and
impartial review of the facts.
Examiners have full authority over
the hearing including administering
oaths, issuing subpoenas, deciding
procedural questions, receiving
evidence, holding conferences
and, ultimately, making the final
determination of what benefits will
be provided. In these ways, hearing
examiners are similar to judges.
However, examiners do not have the
authority to change or make law. Nor
do they have the discretion to exercise
“equity,” which allows judges to balance
fairness and hardship against the rule
of law. So, no matter how sympathetic
the displaced person or business may