The state Supreme Court has ordered American Transmission Company to pay a Weston couple’s legal fees in a condemnation dispute. The high court on Thursday issued a decision agreeing with a Marathon County judge who said Mark and Jeanne Klemm were entitled to recover $22,000 in legal expenses. An appeals court had reversed the circuit court decision.
Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote in the court’s unanimous decision that nothing in state law banned landowners like the Klemms from recovering legal fees if they accept a negotiated offer instead of a jurisdictional offer.
“It is unreasonable to conclude that the legislature intended to treat better the contentious owner who forces the condemnor to go through the hoops of a jurisdictional offer than the cooperating offer who takes the negotiated price appeal route,” she wrote.
“It is incumbent upon our government to offer prices that are fair,” said attorney Shane VanderWaal, who represented the Klemms. “And at the end of the day, what this decision acknowledges is that what wasn’t fair was the initial price” the Klemms received.
The Klemms initially agreed to a $7,750 offer from ATC for a property easement for a high-voltage electric transmission line. But the Klemms appealed the compensation amount and a county condemnation commission later awarded them $10,000.
An appeals court had ruled the Klemms could not recover legal fees because there was no jurisdictional offer made in the case. But the Supreme Court said legal fees also apply in negotiated offer cases.
An award of litigation expenses in the present case discourages the condemnor from offering an inequitably low negotiated price and makes the condemnee, who meets the statutory requirements, whole,” Abrahamson said.
Sara Beachy, one of the two attorneys representing ATC, had no comment. Her partner on the case, Steven Streck, was out of the office and unavailable for comment.