Several plaintiffs lawyers convinced a Missouri jury to send Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative a bill for $130 million in August when it sided with property owners in a class action suit.
Indianapolis lawyer Ron Waicukauski of Price Waicukauski Joven & Catlin LLP served as lead plaintiffs’ counsel during the trial in federal court in Jefferson City, Missouri. The class prevailed on its claim that Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative trespassed for more than 12 years by running fiberoptic cable lines across nearly 800 miles of property without paying owners of 3,560 parcels of property. The jury award was nearly twice that of a prior jury verdict in the same case that was vacated on appeal.
Rounding out the plaintiffs counsel were Price Waicukauski Joven & Catlin lawyers Brad Catlin, and attorneys Kathleen Kauffman, F. Alexander O’Neill, and Heidi Doerhoff Vollet. Other co-counsel included the firms Cook Vetter Doerhoff & Landwehr of Jefferson City and Ackerson Kauffman Fex of Washington, D.C.
Waicukauski said the jury on retrial returned the verdict that he and the legal team argued for based on similar fiberoptic easements and use rights around the country — compensatory damages of $129.2 million and punitive damages of $1.3 million. The compensatory damages reimburse thousands of property owners including farmers, ranchers, homeowners and small businesses, at a rate of $2.44 per foot for 796 miles of trespass over 12.6 years.
“This verdict is a victory for the judicial system as well as the landowners,” said Kauffman, who led the liability and class certification briefing. “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.”
Waicukauski expects an appeal unless the matter is resolved by a settlement. He said there are no settlement discussions at the current time.
Attorneys for Sho-Me have petitioned the court for judgment as a matter of law and decertification of the class — matters that were not before the jury.
The case in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri is Chase Barfield, et al. v. Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative, et al., 2:11-cv-4321NKL.