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93-year-old tenant wins eminent domain case

A jury said Thursday that a Georgia hospital would have to buy a 93-year-old's home for five times its original offer if it condemns the frail woman's rental house.
Julia Lemon stands outside the home she has lived in for 26 years in Albany, Ga., in August 2005.Joe Bellacomo / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A jury decided that a Georgia hospital is going to have to pay nearly five times what it offered if it wants to condemn a rental house where a frail, 93-year-old woman has lived for nearly three decades.

The jury said Thursday that Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital would have to buy the 60-year-old brick duplex for $200,000 — it has been appraised at $50,000 to $60,000 — and give the tenant $51,000 to help her move from her home of 26 years.

“It just proves that no one can assume absolute power over someone’s life without having to answer to the legal system,” said attorney Eddy Meeks, who represented the tenant, Julia Lemon, and the home’s owner, Julie Montgomery.

Lemon, who walks with a cane, said she wished she could stay in the home.

“I lost my husband, a son, my daughter and a granddaughter while I was living here. So I’ve got a lot of memories, some happy, some sad,” she said as she watched television from an easy chair in a bedroom.

Hospital wants property for day care center
Phoebe, southwest Georgia’s largest hospital, condemned the property last year so that it could expand a child development center for employees’ children. Phoebe officials said they may appeal the verdict.

Meeks said he may appeal the condemnation, which was approved by a court last year.

The jury verdict came a day after Gov. Sonny Perdue called for a state constitutional amendment to provide Georgia property owners with more protections from government seizure of their property.

He also announced a new bill reforming the state’s eminent domain laws in response to an unpopular U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave governments power to take land for private development.

About 40 other states are also re-examining their laws in response to last June’s ruling, which gave officials of New London, Conn., the authority to condemn a group of waterfront homes for a private developer.

Lemon plans to start looking for a new home and said she might even buy one.

“This place is quiet,” she said. “I want a quiet place.”