Landowners Right to Cross-Examine An Appraiser In Court

In County of Contra Costa v. Pinole Point Properties, Inc. (1994) the trial court cited California Code of Civil Procedure section 1255.060, and based thereon precluded the landowner, Pinole Point, from cross-examining the county's appraiser about his deposit-related appraisal. To challenge the court's ruling, Pinole Point argued that the county had waived the privilege when it called its appraiser to testify at trial. The appellate court agreed with Pinole Point, stating ". . . when a condemner calls an expert witness to testify at trial to valuation of the subject property, section 1255.060, subdivision (b) does not proscribe his impeachment by use of an appraisal that the witness theretofore made in connection with the condemner's deposit for pretrial possession of that property." ( Id., at p. 1113, original italics.) The Pinole Point court gave two reasons for its conclusion. First, the court was concerned that section 1255.060 raised a constitutional problem, because at bottom a condemnation action serves to determine the property's fair market value. A rule prohibiting a landowner from questioning a witness about a prior inconsistent opinion in the Pinole Point court's view, interfered with the constitutional right to compensation "in a very fundamental way." ( Id., at p. 1112.) The court also noted that historically courts have allowed impeachment of appraisers with prior inconsistent opinions. ( County of Contra Costa v. Pinole Point Properties, Inc., supra, 27 Cal. App. 4th at p. 1112.) As the second reason for its conclusion, the Pinole Point court cited the statute's legislative history: Former section 1243.5, subdivision (e), prohibited parties from mentioning the amount of the security deposit at trial. the rule eliminated the possibility that deposit appraisals could be used against condemning agencies at trial, thereby encouraging agencies to make adequate deposits. ( County of Contra Costa v. Pinole Point Properties, Inc., supra, 27 Cal. App. 4th at pp. 1112-1113, 33 Cal. Rptr. 2d 38.) However, as the result of judicial interpretation of former section 1243.5, subdivision (e), while the amount of the deposit was inadmissible, landowners could call as a witness at trial the appraiser who helped the condemning agency prepare its deposit. Concluding that this judicial interpretation of former section 1243.5, subdivision (e) "defeated the spirit of the rule," the California Law Revision Commission recommended enactment of the current statute, section 1255.060, to close the "loophole." (Recommendations Relating to Eminent Domain Law (Dec. 1976) 13 Cal. Law Revision Com. Rep. (1976) p. 1048; County of Contra Costa v. Pinole Point Proprerties, Inc., supra, at p. 1113.) Based on this history, the Pinole Point court concluded that section 1255.060 was enacted for the purpose of preventing a landowner from calling the appraiser who helped the condemning agency prepare its deposit. (27 Cal. App. 4th at pp. 1112-1113.) For these reasons, the Pinole Point court concluded that subdivision (b) of section 1255.060 does not prevent the impeachment of the condemning agency's appraiser by reference to his or her deposit-related appraisal, if the agency calls that appraiser at the valuation trial. ( County of Contra Costa v. Pinole Point Properties, Inc., supra, at p. 1113.) Yet, despite this analysis, the Pinole Point court went on to hold that any error was not pivotal because the landowner was able to place the appraisal-related evidence in front of the jury. (Ibid.)