Adams Outdoor Advertising of Charlotte v. North Carolina Department of Transportation, 112 N.C. App. 120 (1993)

A statutory inverse condemnation action may not be maintained to recover damages when DOT plants trees in the right-of-way that obstruct a billboard.

Adams owns eleven billboards located on private property along a state maintained road. After the billboards were erected, Adams alleged that DOT planted trees and vegetation within the state owned right-of- way adjacent to the leased property on which the billboards are located. Adams claimed that, since the vegetation has obscured or will eventually obscure the billboards, the billboards have been rendered economically useless and, therefore, Adams is entitled to compensation for inverse condemnation. After the trial court dismissed the action for failure to state a claim, Adams appealed.

The Court of Appeals first indicated that, since the complaint did not raise constitutional issues, it was considering the claim solely under G.S. 136-111. In order to state a claim under that statute, a plaintiff has to show a taking of private property for public use or purpose. It is not, however, necessary to show an actual occupation of the land, as a taking of private property occurs when there is "a substantial interference with elemental rights growing out of the ownership of the property." The interference must result in injuries that are not "merely consequential or incidental." Relying on dictionary definitions of "consequential" and "incidental," the Court held that any damages suffered by Adams were consequential or incidental. Specifically, the Court noted that the trees were planted as part of a beautification project and any obstruction was a consequential or incidental result. Furthermore, DOT's use of its right-of-way was consistent with its statutory powers. The Court also acknowledged that case law supports the notion that the obstruction of the right to view does not constitute a taking of property. Finally, Adams failed to provide any statutory basis or authority for a taking based upon the "right to be seen."
[Land Use; Signs; Inverse Condemnation ]