August 31, 2017
Price Waicukauski Joven & Catlin Wins $130 Million Verdict for Landowners in Class Action Lawsuit for Trespass Against Telecom Company
On August 28 and 29, a Missouri federal court jury rendered verdicts of $129,211,337 for compensatory damages and $1,300,000 for punitive damages ($130,511,337) in favor of a class of Missouri landowners and against a telecommunications company and its parent company. For more than 12 years the companies used fiber optic cable on almost 800 miles of private property for commercial telecommunications without obtaining proper easements from the landowners.
The $129 million damages award compensates the landowners for trespass on 3,560 parcels of land in Missouri. The award equals $2.44 per foot per year for 796 miles of trespass for 12.6 years, which is the exact amount the landowners requested based on data from fiber optic easements across the country. When the unauthorized use of the fiber optic cables was discovered by the landowners, the defendants, Sho-Me Technologies, LLC and Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative, refused to pay them anything even though they have received hundreds of millions of dollars of revenues from their fiber optic network and paid thousands of dollars to railroads and other parties for similar usage rights.
The same parties previously tried a related unjust enrichment claim to a jury in February 2015 that resulted in a $79 million verdict. On March 29, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit vacated the prior verdict for unjust enrichment, affirmed class certification, affirmed liability for trespass, and remanded the case to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri for a trial on trespass damages.
Landowners who are expected to benefit from this verdict include thousands of farmers, ranchers, homeowners, and small businesses. Ron Waicukauski, lead counsel for the landowners said, “This has been a hard-fought battle to defend landowners’ rights. The jury verdict’s precise calculation of the damages demonstrates the jury’s careful understanding of the facts, and is a victory for Missouri landowners.” Kathleen Kauffman, who led the liability and class certification briefing, added, “This verdict is a victory for the judicial system as well as the landowners. It affirms the rule of law and the simple concept that no person or company is above the law. No one can take private property without consent or legal right, regardless of commercial benefit.”
Missouri counsel for the landowners, Heidi Doerhoff Vollet, said she was especially gratified to have played a significant role in bringing justice to so many Missouri landowners who had their land rights taken from them by this scheme. Brad Catlin and Fred O’Neill also played key roles as members of the trial team to bring the defendants to justice for their disregard of the landowners’ rights.
Counsel for the landowners concluded, “All of us who were privileged to play a part in correcting this injustice and vindicating the property rights of Missouri landowners can only thank this country’s system of justice for giving us a chance to be a part of proving that everyone stands equal before the law.”
Chase Barfield, et al. v. Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative, et al., Case No. 2:11-cv-4321NKL (W.D. Mo., 2017)
For further information contact Ron Waicukauski at 317-633-8787; Kathleen Kauffman at 202-658-8008; Heidi Vollet at 573-635-7977.