$25 million class settlement approved
November 20, 2018
A Missouri federal court has approved a $25 million class action settlement that compensates thousands of Missouri landowners for the unauthorized use of their property for commercial telecommunications. This settlement concludes seven years of hard-fought litigation between the class and Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative and Sho-Me Technologies LLC. CVDL served as co-counsel for the plaintiffs.
The litigation, Barfield, et al. v. Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative, et al., Case No. 2:11-cv-4321NKL, included two jury trials in Jefferson City. The first trial resulted in a $79 million verdict that was reversed by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. In the second trial, the jury returned a verdict for $130.5 million that was later set aside by the district court. Shortly before a third trial was scheduled to start, the parties agreed to this settlement that received final approval on November 15.
Landowners who will benefit from this settlement include thousands of farmers, ranchers, homeowners, and small businesses. Plaintiffs’ lead trial counsel, Ron Waicukauski of Indianapolis, commented: “This settlement represents a victory for property rights and provides a substantial measure of justice for thousands of people whose property has been used for telecommunications without permission to do so. It’s not as much justice as we and two juries would have liked but, all things considered, it’s a good result. It is telling that there were no objectors to the settlement.”
Plaintiffs’ co-counsel Kathleen Kauffman of Washington, D.C., added: “Holding Sho-Me accountable for trespass to the tune of $25 million 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.”
Heidi Doerhoff Vollet of Cook, Vetter, Doerhoff & Landwehr, P.C. in Jefferson City, also co-counsel for Plaintiffs, said she was privileged to have been able to work on behalf of the more than 3,700 Missouri landowners who had their land rights taken from them by Sho-Me’s course of conduct. “We are proud of this settlement and the results our clients achieved in standing up to corporate interests that, for years, had fought tooth and nail to avoid liability altogether.”
Attorney Fred O’Neill of Thayer, Missouri discovered critical facts that revealed Sho-Me Power was disregarding the property rights of rural coop members and noted: “Despite years of fierce opposition by Sho-Me Power, the class was certified, the landowners were not divided, and ultimately prevailed.”
Dwight Robertson of Miller County, Missouri, one of the class representatives who was a victim of the corporate trespass, said: “I participated in this court case to help preserve property rights for myself and the other landowners. I want to thank the entire legal team that represented the landowners in this case. Their accurate presentation of the case was successful in helping all landowners preserve our property ownership rights.”
Brad Catlin of Indianapolis, another key member of the landowners’ litigation team, 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.”
In 2015, the same litigation team settled similar claims against an Oklahoma-based electric transmission cooperative and its technology subsidiary that had been operating in Missouri.
Another suit alleging similar trespassing conduct by Central Electric Power Cooperative and its technology subsidiary is pending in the Circuit Court of Callaway County, Missouri.