SPRINGFIELD – A state appeals court has sustained a more than $145,000 judgment handed down by a Lawrence County court last year over an electric company's work that strayed outside of its right-of-way and has sent the case back to the county court to decide attorney fees.
The three-judge panel on the Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals Division One unanimously ruled to affirm March 13 the trial court's judgment and remanded the case back to the trial court to enter an award for the plaintiff's attorneys fees "in an amount it determines appropriate," the court's March 13 opinion said.
Judge Don E. Burrell wrote the 27-page opinion for the appeals court while Judge Mary. W. Sheffield and Judge Gary W. Lynch concurred.
The case initially was filed by Steven M. and Suzanne M. Bare, as co-trustees of the Steven M. Bare and Suzanne M. Bare Joint Revocable Trust Agreement dated Jan. 12, 2005, against an electric cooperative and construction company over an easement they had sold. Carroll Electric Cooperative Corp., who along with Seven Valleys Construction Co. was sued by the Bares, appealed a Lawrence County Circuit Court judgment that found Carroll Electric had committed common-law trespass when it strayed outside of a right-of-way easement acquired from the landowners, the Bares.
The circuit court awarded the Bares a little more than $12,224 in actual damages plus court costs, $75,000 in punitive damages and almost $59,456 in attorney fees, according to the appeals court's opinion.
The circuit court also awarded actual damages and court costs, but not punitive damages, to the Bares and against Seven Valleys Construction. Carroll Electric had hired Seven Valleys Construction to clear the right-of-way, which resulted in a pile of severed trees and brush left on the Bares' land and other damage, according to the appeals court's opinion.
"[The Bares] claimed, inter alia, that Seven Valleys acted as Carroll Electric's agent in trespassing beyond the right-of-way they ceded to Carroll Electric and that the conduct of both defendants was 'outrageous' due to 'evil motive or reckless indifference to the rights of others,'” the appeals court's opinion said.
Carroll Electric purchased the 100-foot right-of-way from the Bares for $9,060 in September 2010 and clearing of the right-of-way began the following March, according to the appeals court's opinion.
After handing down its judgment, the circuit court in April 2017 denied Carroll Electric's motion to toss out the jury's verdict, ruling the judgment "is now final for purposes of appeal," the appeals court's opinion said. Carroll then appealed the judgment.
A footnote in the opinion notes that this isn't the first time the Missouri Southern District has seen an appeal from this case. The court dismissed an appeal by Carroll Electric in September 2014 for lack of a final judgment "as it did not resolve all issues in the case relating to the jury's punitive damage award," the footnote said.
"The judgment at issue in this appeal was the amended judgment (originally entered in July 2014) that became a final judgment in April 2017," the opinion said.