Guam Supreme Court Reverses Decision in Gutierrez v. Guam Power Authority

278

Guam – The Supreme Court of Guam in an opinion authored by Presiding Justice Robert J. Torres and joined by Associate Justice Katherine A. Maraman and Justice Pro Tempore John A. Manglona, reversed the judgment of the Superior Court of Guam in the case of Gutierrez v. Guam Power Authority, 2013 Guam 1.

In 2005, Plaintiff-Appellant Carl T.C. Gutierrez filed an inverse condemnation against the Guam Power Authority (“GPA”) seeking rent for the encroachment of GPA power poles onto property which he had acquired from the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission in 2004.

READ the Guam Supreme Court’s decision HERE

The poles were removed in 2007, a few months prior to trial. The trial court found that GPA had acquired a license from the United States Navy in 1989 permitting the placement of the power poles on the property, and that the license was valid as against Gutierrez.

The trial court also found that even if GPA no longer had a license to encroach on the property, the encroachment was not a substantial enough occupation of the property to amount to a compensable taking under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, and that in any event, Gutierrez did not prove the fair market rental value of the occupied space. Gutierrez appealed.

The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s ruling that the license granted by the United States Navy to GPA was valid against Gutierrez, holding that generally, a license does not pass with title to a subsequent grantee of the property. Because the license was not reserved in the deed to Gutierrez and because Gutierrez took title to the property without knowledge of the license, Gutierrez was not bound by the license.

The Supreme Court further held that the encroachment of the power poles constituted a temporary physical taking of a portion of Gutierrez’s property, entitling him to just compensation under the Takings Clause.

Finally, the Supreme Court found that Gutierrez had provided sufficient evidence of the fair market rental value of the space that had been occupied by the power poles, and also concluded that the governor was not an indispensable party to the litigation.

The case was remanded to the trial court to determine damages.