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Tennessee Eminent Domain Laws

In Tennessee, the person seeking to appropriate land shall file a petition in the circuit court of the county in which the land lies, setting forth, in substance:

  • The parcel of land or rights therein or incident thereto a portion of which is wanted, and the extent wanted;
  • The name of the owner of such land or rights, or, if unknown, stating the fact;
  • The object for which the land, etc., is wanted; and
  • A prayer that a suitable portion of land or rights may be decreed to the petitioner, and set apart by metes and bounds, or other proper mode[i].

Notice of the petition, together with a copy thereof, shall be given to the owner of the land or rights, or, if a nonresident of the county, to the landowner’s agent, at least five days before its presentation.  If the owner is a nonresident of the state or unknown, notice shall be given by publication, as provided in this Code in similar cases in chancery[ii].  After the requisite notice has been given, if no sufficient cause to the contrary is shown, the court shall issue a writ of inquiry of damages to the sheriff, commanding the sheriff to summon a jury to inquire and assess the damages.  By consent of the parties, or on application of the plaintiff, unless objection is made by the defendant, the writ of inquiry may be issued by the clerk after service of notice on which the sheriff will summon the jury[iii].

The jury will consist of five persons, unless the parties agree upon a different number, and either party may challenge for cause or peremptorily as in other civil cases[iv].  The sheriff shall give the parties or their agents, if residents of the county, three days’ notice of the time and place of taking the inquest, unless the time has been fixed by the order of court[v].  The jury will then proceed to examine the ground, and may hear testimony, but no argument of counsel, and set apart, by metes and bounds, a sufficient quantity of land for the purposes intended, and assess the damages occasioned to the owner thereby.  In condemning rights-of-way for telegraph and telephone companies or riparian rights, the juries shall not be required to lay off the property, privileges, rights, or easements included in the petition, or sought to be condemned, by metes and bounds.  And in such cases, it shall be discretionary with such juries whether they will view the premises or not[vi].

In estimating the damages, the jury shall give the value of the land or rights taken without deduction, but incidental benefits which may result to the owner by reason of the proposed improvement may be taken into consideration in estimating the incidental damages.  Whenever any person, agency, or other entity acquires an interest in any parcel of real property and such acquisition requires the removal of furniture, household belongings, fixtures, equipment, machinery, or stock in trade of any person in rightful possession, regardless of whether such person has a legal interest in such property, the reasonable expense of the removal shall be considered in assessing incidental damages.  The reasonable expense of the removal of such chattels shall be construed as including the cost of any necessary disconnection, dismantling, or disassembling, the loading, and drayage to another location not more than fifty miles distant, and the reassembling, reconnecting, and installing on such new location.

When title to an entire tax parcel is condemned in fee, the total amount of damages for the condemnation of the parcel shall be not less than the last valuation used by the assessor of property just prior to the date of taking, less any decrease in value for any changes in the parcel occurring since the valuation was made, such as the removal or destruction of a building, flooding, waste, or removal of trees.  The valuation may be introduced and admitted into evidence at the trial.  In addition to condemnation proceedings under this chapter, the provisions of this subdivision (a)(2) shall apply to condemnation proceedings under title 29, chapter 17 or any other provision of law.

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, if any person, agency, or other entity acquires any interest in real property pursuant to the execution of the power of eminent domain, the person shall acquire at least an equal interest in all buildings, structures, or other improvements located upon the real property so acquired and which the person requires to be removed from such real property or which the person determines will be adversely affected by the use to which such real property will be put.  For the purpose of determining the just compensation to be paid for any building, structure, or other improvement required to be acquired by subsection (b), such building, structure, or other improvement shall be deemed to be a part of the real property to be acquired, notwithstanding the right or obligation of a tenant, as against the owner of any other interest in the real property to remove such building, structure, or improvement at the expiration of his term, and the fair market value which such building, structure, or improvement contributes to the fair market value of the real property to be acquired, or the fair market value of such building, structure, or improvement for removal from the real property, whichever is the greater, shall be paid to the tenant therefor.

Payment under this subsection (c) shall not result in duplication of any payments otherwise authorized by law.  No such payment shall be made unless the owner of the land involved disclaims all interest in the improvements of the tenant. In consideration for any such payment, the tenant shall assign, transfer, and release to the acquiring party all the tenant’s right, title, and interest in and to such improvements.  Nothing in this subsection (c) shall be construed to deprive the tenant of any rights to reject payment under this subsection and to obtain payment for such property interests in accordance with applicable law, other than this subsection (c).  Any person, agency or other entity acquiring real property pursuant to the exercise of eminent domain shall as soon as practicable after the date of payment of the purchase price or the date of deposit into court of funds to satisfy the award of compensation in a condemnation proceeding to acquire real property, whichever is earlier, reimburse the owner, to the extent that such acquiring party deems fair and reasonable for expenses the owner necessarily incurred for:

  • Recording fees, transfer taxes, and similar expenses incidental to conveying such real property to the acquiring party;
  • Penalty costs for repayment of any preexisting recorded mortgage entered into in good faith encumbering such real property; and
  • The pro rata portion of real property taxes paid which are allocable to a period subsequent to the date of vesting title in the acquiring party, or the effective date of possession by the acquiring party, whichever is earlier[vii].

Either party may also appeal from the finding of the jury, and, on giving security for the costs, have a trial anew, before a jury in the usual way.  In all cases where the right to condemn is not contested and the sole question before the jury is that of damages, the property owner shall be entitled to open and close the argument before the court and jury.  The time within which either party may appeal from the finding of the jury of view shall be forty-five days from the date of the entry of the court’s order confirming the report of the jury of view[viii].  If the verdict of the jury, upon the trial, affirms the finding of the jury of inquest, or is more unfavorable to the appellant than the finding of such jury, the costs shall be adjudged against such appellant; otherwise the court may award costs as in chancery cases[ix].  The taking of an appeal does not suspend the operations of the petitioner on the land; provided such petitioner will give bond with good security, to be approved by the clerk, in double the amount of the assessment of the jury of inquest, payable to the defendants, and conditioned to abide by and perform the final judgment in the premises[x].

However, if such person or company has actually taken possession of such land, occupying it for the purposes of internal improvement, the owner of such land may petition for a jury of inquest, in which case the same proceedings may be had, as soon as possible, as hereinbefore provided; or the owner may sue for damages in the ordinary way, in which case the jury shall lay off the land by metes and bounds and assess the damages, as upon the trial of an appeal from the return of a jury of inquest.  Additionally, the court rendering a judgment for the plaintiff in a proceeding brought under subsection (a), arising out of a cause of action identical to a cause of action that can be brought against the United States under 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(2) or § 1491, or the attorney general or chief legal officer of a political subdivision of the state effecting a settlement of any such proceeding, shall determine and award or allow to such plaintiff, as a part of such judgment or settlement such sum as will in the opinion of the court, or the attorney general or chief legal officer of a political subdivision of the state reimburse such plaintiff for reasonable costs, disbursements and expenses, including reasonable attorney, appraisal, and engineering fees, actually incurred because of such proceeding[xi].

The owners of land shall, in such cases, commence proceedings within twelve months after the land has been actually taken possession of and the work of the proposed internal improvement begun. However, to unknown owners and nonresidents, the deadline is twelve months after actual knowledge of such occupation, not exceeding three years, and to persons under the disabilities of infancy and unsoundness of mind, twelve months after such disability is removed, but not exceeding ten years[xii].

[i] Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-16-104.

[ii] Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-16-105.

[iii] Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-16-107.

[iv] Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-16-108.

[v] Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-16-111.

[vi] Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-16-113.

[vii] Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-16-114

[viii] Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-16-118

[ix] Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-16-119

[x] Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-16-120

[xi] Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-16-123

[xii] Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-16-124

Inside Tennessee Eminent Domain Laws