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Class Certification Granted Over Misuse of Easements

On July 25, 2013, a Missouri federal judge granted class certification to Missouri land-owners for claims arising out of an electric company exceeding the scope of easements granted for power lines.

Here, defendant Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative and its subsidiary, a local electric cooperative, had valid easements to transmit electricity over the properties owned by the named plaintiffs. The plaintiffs, however, alleged that the defendant and its subsidiaries separately created fiber optic cable capacity on their easements and then licensed that capacity for external, commercial telecommunications purposes, which plaintiffs allege exceeded the scope of the easement and deprived them of valuable property rights.

The plaintiffs moved for certification of a class as they defined it. Following which, the defendants opposed class certification on the grounds that individual issues predominate over common issues, that damages cannot be measured on a class wide basis, and that the class is unmanageable.

The Judge granted the motion but altered the class definition slightly. The final class consists of: "All persons who own or owned land in Missouri underlying Defendants' electric-transmission lines that is burdened by an easement with either Defendant or their subsidiaries, which easement does not contain an arbitration clause, and on or in which a Defendant had licensed the fiber optic cable for commercial telecommunication uses or used the fiber optic cable for commercial-telecommunication uses." [bold faced indicated the judges alternation/addition].

The judge rejected the defendants' claim that proceeding as a class was not the most effective means of resolving the class member's claims. The judge stressed that the class was readily identifiable and in a certain defined geographic area. Further, plaintiffs articulated a variety of methods to effect notice, making the class more than manageable.

The case is styled Bartfield v. Sho-Me Power Elec. Coop., No. 11-cv-4321, 2013 WL 3872181 (W.D. Mo. 2013).


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