Court of Appeals upholds MDHA’s Tower tab

Circuit trial that resulted in $30M verdict was conducted properly, judges say

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has upheld a lower-court ruling ordering the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency to pay $30 million to Tower Investments for 5.7 acres on top of which the Music City Center sits.

The opinion comes more than six years after Tower bought the land at the corner of Fifth Avenue South and Demonbreun Street for $14.7 million. More than two years later, MDHA officials sought to acquire the site for the city’s new convention center through eminent domain, offering $14.8 million.

Tower disputed the move and a jury of view in early 2010 said the city should pay $16.1 million. Tower and lender PremierWest Bank appealed that figure and another jury in July 2011 put the property’s value at $30.4 million.

In their opinion issued Tuesday, the appellate judges said the valuation of the land was within the range of fair-market estimates, that the jury was properly instructed and that the Circuit Court trial was conducted appropriately.

The last of those points related to remarks made by Judge Joe Binkley Jr., who had said, “You know, I might disagree with what the jury did, but I don’t reasonably disagree with what they did. And I do not find that the evidence preponderates against the verdict. I approve the verdict. That’s all I’m going to say.”

MDHA had argued that those remarks suggested Binkley simply deferred to the jury’s verdict when he should have ordered a new trial. But the appellate judges, led by Richard Dinkins and joined by Patricia Cottrell, wrote that Binkley had not made a reversible error. (Check out the full opinion here and a concurring note from Judge Frank Clement here.)

“Many times a court may disagree with a jury’s verdict in the sense that the court would have ruled another way; dissatisfaction means that the court has determined that the verdict is not supported by the evidence, was reached in an improper manner, or otherwise works an injustice,” the judges’ opinion. “Such dissatisfaction is not present in the court’s comments here; there is nothing in the remark from which we could conclude that the court misconstrued its role as thirteenth juror or failed to follow it.”