Real Estate Valuation Expert Witness Testimony Allowed

Plaintiffs sued defendant after their claim on a title insurance policy was denied by the defendant.  The plaintiff hired a Real Estate Valuation Expert Witness to provide testimony on their behalf.  The defendant filed a motion to exclude this testimony, which the court denied.

Facts: This case (Helms v. Old Republic Nat’l Title Ins. Co – United States District Court – District of Nebraska – February 5th, 2018) involves a title insurance policy taken out on a parcel of land purchased by the plaintiffs.   In 2011, the plaintiffs, Dale and Debra Helms, started negotiating a purchase of 240 acres of land.  The plaintiffs also purchased title insurance for the property from the plaintiff.  The title insurance policy in question had policy limits of  $513,520, which insured against unmarketable title and other hindrances.  The plaintiffs subsequently learned that 21.81 acres of the land was owned by the United States government and thus, they filed a clam with the defendants.  The defendants denied the claim, and the plaintiffs’ sued for breach of contract.  To assist in proving their case, the plaintiffs hired Real Estate Valuation Expert Witness Alan Svoboda to provide his opinion.  The defendant moved to exclude this testimony.

Discussion:  Svoboda analyzed the market value of the property under two situations.  the “before” valuation and the “after” valuation.    The “before” evaluation assumed that the plaintiffs owned the 240 acres of the property, which valued the land at the highest and best use.  The “after” evaluation excluded the 21 acres owned by the government and valued the property under those circumstances.   Svoboda calculated that the diminution in value from “before” and “after” was $550,000.

The defendant argues that Svoboda’s expert testimony should be excluded because three pieces are speculative and unreliable: 1) the “before” classification of the land as pivot irrigable farmland; 2) the failure to contemplate the special use permit in the “after” evaluation; and 3) Svoboda’s assumption that the “after” valuation land is pivot irrigable.

The court ruled that the defendant has provided no evidence that Svoboda’s methodology is not reliable.  The defendant asked the court to exclude based on inaccurate facts, which goes to the credibility of the testimony, not the admissibility.  The court opined that Svoboda’s opinion is supported by accepted appraisal methods: the cost approach, income approach, and sales comparison approach.  In addition, Svoboda reviewed soil assessments, water allocation records, ordinances, and other documents as well as his own inspection of the property.

The court also ruled that Svoboda’s opinion will be helpful to the jury and that he is clearly qualified to over an expert opinion in this case.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness opinion of Alan Svoboda is denied.