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Judge rules in NCAB/Hildebrandt case. Congratulations Tom!

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Land appraiser acted properly, judge decides

8-29-02

By STAN SWOFFORD, Staff Writer
News & Record



GREENSBORO -- An administrative-law judge has determined that a Greensboro land appraiser did not violate state law or professional standards in the way he appraised land condemned by Piedmont Triad International Airport in connection with the FedEx project.

Judge Sammie Chess says in his decision that Tom Hildebrandt's appraisal of the 49 acres near Old Oak Ridge Road was not only lawful but also "reasonable" and "well-founded." Hildebrandt, hired by the property's former owner, Charles Sims, appraised the 49 acres at an amount almost three times higher than the value placed on the land by an appraiser for the airport authority.

"I feel relieved and vindicated," said Hildebrandt, shortly after learning this week that Chess had ruled in his favor.

Chess' decision, however, is not binding. The N.C. Appraisal Board, which issued the charges against Hildebrandt, could still take administrative action against him. Roberta Ouelette, the board's lawyer who prosecuted Hildebrandt before Chess in April, said that she probably will ask the board to override Chess' decision.

The airport's appraiser, Michael Clapp of Winston-Salem, filed a complaint with the appraisal board against Hildebrandt in June 2000, shortly after a Superior Court jury ruled that the airport should pay Sims $2.6 million for his property, or about $53,000 an acre. The jury's figure was about 22 percent below Hildebrandt's appraisal but 130 percent above Clapp's $23,000-per-acre appraisal on behalf of the airport.

The airport did not appeal the jury's finding. It paid Sims the amount the jury directed, plus interest since 1998, when condemnation proceedings began.

Clapp accused Hildebrandt of violating state law and professional rules of ethics in determining his appraisal. He also filed complaints against two other appraisers who worked for Sims on the condemnation proceeding. The N.C. Appraisal Board suspended the professional license of those two appraisers earlier this year.

Clapp said Wednesday that he had not seen Chess' decision and declined to comment on it.

The appraisal board agreed to allow an administrative-law judge to hear Hildebrandt's case because Hildebrandt had often criticized the board's policies and procedures.

When FedEx announced it had chosen PTI for its $300 million air-cargo hub in April 1998, the airport began to acquire the 125 acres needed for the hub and new runway it will need. The airport authority filed the condemnation lawsuit against Sims in 1998 after Sims rejected its offer to buy his 49 acres. Sims produced documents showing he had been offered more per acre for his land 20 years ago than what the airport offered him in 1998.

Chess rejected every charge in Clapp's complaint to the appraisal board.

He agreed with Hildebrandt that only 5 to 8 of the 49 acres were wetlands -- and therefore could not be developed -- instead of the 14 to 16 acres Clapp said were wetlands.

Chess agreed with Hildebrandt that the main reason for the condemnation was so the airport could carry out its long-term expansion plans, and that it had announced its intention to acquire the property as early as 1980. Airport Director Ted Johnson said it was "no secret" the airport had wanted Sims' land for a long time.

Chess says in his decision that Ouelette and the appraisal board staff failed to show that Hildebrandt violated "any applicable standard."

Vance Kinlaw, Hildebrandt's lawyer, said a "jury and now a judge have determined that Mr. Hildebrandt performed his work according to the law and professional rules and standards, and that there was no merit to the complaints brought against him."

Contact Stan Swofford at 373-7351 or [email protected]d.com
 

George Hatch

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There's a difference between a judge just saying that none of the allegations were proved by the board (not proven guilty), and saying that the appraisal in question was reasonable and well founded (proven innocent). I think that if I were on the board that I'd take a real close look at both of these appraisals again, because they both describe the property interest to be appraised differently and cannot both be correct. There are either 5-8 acres of wetlands or there are 14-16 acres. Which is it? Who has the facts on their side and who does not? The judge has apparently rendered his opinion. It would seem that the NCAB had better have a real good reason for disagreeing with a judicial opinion of an error in fact.

I still maintain that allegations of faulty values can either involve errors in fact and/or errors of opinion, the latter being much more difficult to objectively prove. The judge in this case has apparently ruled that at least some of the factual data reported in the other appraisal is incorrect. This would seem to be an allegation of faulty appraisal practice, levied at the complainant in this case by the judge who heard it. I don't see how the state appraisal board can ignore such an allegation, which almost rises to the level of a formal complaint.

I wonder what the NCAB is going to do about this issue? I also wonder if their internal practices are going to be revamped so that they won't have to go through another highly publicized loss like this again? Is the NCAB going to change their internal policies and provide additional training to the staff and board members so they can better fulfil their public responsibilties without trampling the rights of their state's licensees?

Not, I think, without pressure being brought to bear from an external authority. I wonder how the Governor of North Carolina feels about his appraisal board getting whupped (pretty badly, too) in court?

Bob, thanks for posting this story and thanks for fighting the fight.

George Hatch
 
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Bob and George

I have the judges ruling and order in pdf format. If you wish a copy please ask. I wish I knew how to post it on the forum, but such technical issues always seem elusive to this mind!

Thanks also for the supportive comments.

Best Regards

Tom Hildebrandt GAA
 

Elliott

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Tom et al,

Here's my take after reading the news story.....

So if Tom is totally vindicated...then doesn't it
follow that Chess (the complaintant) screwed up??

I have a pending board complaint where a review
appraiser came in at $220,000 on a property I
appraised at $300,000. The reviewer files a
complaint against me....so I turned around and
filed a complaint against him. The head guy decided
that I of course was motivated by revenge (I have
never filed a complaint before) and dismisses with
prejudice my compaint.

Wouldn't you know it....3 months later the owner puts
the house up for sale....3 months later sells the house
for $295,000.

I think my reviewer and Chess are the incompetent
appraisers that should have actions taken by the
appraisal boards....but oh, I forgot, its about
bureacracies, and pensions, salaries,
government carrers, and sitting on your butt.

elliott
 

Steve Owen

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I still maintain that allegations of faulty values can either involve errors in fact and/or errors of opinion, the latter being much more difficult to objectively prove. The judge in this case has apparently ruled that at least some of the factual data reported in the other appraisal is incorrect. This would seem to be an allegation of faulty appraisal practice, levied at the complainant in this case by the judge who heard it. I don't see how the state appraisal board can ignore such an allegation, which almost rises to the level of a formal complaint.

Exactly, George.
 
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George

You got it exactly right.

While value was the issue, almost all of the key expert testimony in the trial centered on the correct treatment of the 14-16 acres. Clapp accepted, without question, the airports expert's opinion that the total area in the flood plain was also wetlands. He had access to a preliminary study, provided by the Army Corps of Engineers one day before he turned in his report which they said that the entire area might be in wetlands but additional field work would be required.


I had the same flood plain survey showing 14-16 acres of flood plane, I knew that the oppossing side had been told and accepted that 14-16 acres was in wetlands, I had reviewed a conflicting study done by another soil expert who said less than 2 acres was in wetlands. During the development phase of our appraisals, I recieved no information, nor to my knowledge did Clapp , of how much flood way there was in the 14-16 acres of flood plain. What I did was split the difference by calcualting a high, eight acres, and low five acres, range of what might be in the floodway by using some developmental standards for stream buffers. I used 5-8 acres as an inclusive number for flood way and wetlands.

This is a telling point in the difference in the development of Clapp's appraisal and mine. I never once accepted anything that my client or the airport argued as fact without investigation, and on several occassions split the difference when there was a reasonable question as to the issue at hand. Clapp on the other hand accepted without question, the airports statements on every thing from definition of the scope of the project, which was erroneous and self serving, right through to access issues, wetlands, etc.

The NCAB staff, since they wanted to convict me, ignored the evidence, factual and expert opinions, offered in support of my analysis when preparing their case.

In my hearing this bias became painfully obvious to the NCAB staff, and I believe this fact figured heavily in the judges decision.

The key issue for the judge in my hearing essentially was whether I performed my services as an appraiser, ie, independently, impartially and objectively. The record is very clear that I did my job correctly, and that Clapp and the NCAB had failures in the execution of their duties in these same areas. Hence the recommendation for dismissal.

I doubt the NCAB staff will revisit these issues without some prodding. We shall see how events unfold down the road.

Regards

Tom Hildebrandt GAA
 

Non Sequitur

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What happened with the other 2 appraisers that worked for Sims? The article says that NCAB suspended their licenses. Why? Is this permanent? Are they appealing?
 

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I sat thru the hearing on one of the other two appraisers.

It is important to know that while it is the SAME PROPERTY in question for all three appraisers and all three complaints, that is where the similarity ends.

Each of these situations are VERY, VERY different. Three different appraisers, same property yet three reports prepared, completed and doccumented in entirely different levels of competency.

In the hearing I sat thru ( not Tom's) , the accused appraiser showed up 3 hours late and was totally unprepared. His report had many, many, inconsistent statements, omissions, incorrect data etc.

Perhaps Tpm or someone else will repond on this better than I can, but from my view these REPORTS had very little in common.
 
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Cledett and others

I have not read any of the work product by Mitchell or Schenkle in this matter. Based on the what I read of the transcripts and heard tangently, both of their written work products were deficient to varying degrees. One got a revocation of his license, the other got a five year active suspension.

Also, I suspect they really did not understand the key issue of the what was the project and how that relates to blight. (But that is no different than the airport appraisers who also did not, and still do not, understand this concept.) The reason I say this is that if anyone had looked at the documentation, the memorandum of action and the property history, it is impossible for a knowledgeable individual to come to the conclusion that the project was Fed Ex. This is of course what the NCAB alledged in each of the others cases and it went unchallenged.

The NCAB alleged this in my case, but got it handed right back at them. From that point on, the NCAB case just falls apart. The board staff appears too embarrased to admit they got it wrong.

Regards

Tom Hildebrandt GAA
 
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