The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Top Stories

March 12, 2013

Former Picher residents gain class-action status in suits on buyout amounts

PICHER, Okla. — Instead of each of them fighting alone, about 220 former residents of Picher will be able to go forward as a class in a lawsuit in which they allege their properties were intentionally undervalued by appraisers working for the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust.

On Tuesday, Judge Dana Kuehn, with Tulsa County District Court, posted online with the Oklahoma State Courts Network that she had granted a motion filed by the property owners seeking class-action status. She said her decision would be mailed by court clerks to the named parties, including the plaintiffs, the appraisal companies and several insurance companies.

Because copies of the ruling were not posted online Tuesday, details about the judge’s decision were not immediately available.

Kuehn received written arguments from lawyers on both sides of the issue and held a hearing on March 1 in Tulsa on the motion for class-action certification.

The judge scheduled Monday, April 1, as the date of a scheduling conference. No trial date has been set.

The ruling created a chain reaction of telephone calls as word spread Tuesday among the property owners who are part of the class.

“I just got a call and heard that they had ruled in our favor,” said Johnny LaFalier, one of the plaintiffs. “It’s good news coming.”

LaFalier said it has taken a long time to get to this point, but that the attorneys representing the property owners made that clear from the start.

“When they took my deposition a while back, I was told by John Wiggins (one of the lawyers) to put it on the shelf because it was going to take a while,” LaFalier said. “He said he’d let me know when I should wipe the dust off of it.”

LaFalier said the property owners are hopeful that their attorneys will make such a compelling argument for their position that the defendants will move to settle out of court to avoid a costly and time-consuming trial.

“I hope they can reach a settlement for actual and punitive damages,” he said. “We’re all getting old now, and a trial would be hard on us. But, for the first time in a long time, we have a sense of hope. Whatever we get is a plus we didn’t have before.”

John Frazier, another Picher resident who was relocated in the $45 million buyout, said: “I just heard about it. I think it’s great. Anyone with any common sense will be able to see that a lot of houses were too high and that even more houses were too low.

“When people see the pictures of the houses and their appraisals, they can’t believe there was that much difference in the appraisals.”

Frazier said that if the case goes to trial, he thinks the property owners would have a good chance of winning.

“With all of the documentation we’ve got, well, the pictures speak for themselves,” he said.

The officers of the trust have countered the allegations with statements that everyone was treated equally, that fair prices were paid, and that friends of trust officials were not given preferential treatment. More than 700 pieces of property were involved in the buyout.

Trust officials also say that the majority of Picher’s relocated residents received fair deals or they would not have accepted the buyout offers. Some residents have said they accepted what they characterized as “take-it-or-leave-it” offers because they thought it might be their only chance to get something for their properties.

Patsy Huffman, another participant in the buyout, said: “I’m thankful for the class action. How would all of these people been able to go to court if they had to go one at a time?”

Jeff Marr, an Oklahoma City attorney who is representing the property owners, said the judge did “an excellent job of cutting through the issues to get to the heart of it.”

He said the property owners now have the “opportunity to go forward in a single, unified action. They are now stronger going forward to right this wrong.”

Missy Beets, a former Picher resident, was selected to be the representative for the class because her appraisal was deemed a typical example of the alleged mishandling of appraisals. If the lawyers fail to convince a jury that the alleged mishandling was deliberate, then all of the other cases will fail as well.

Joe Fears, an attorney with Barber & Bartz, of Tulsa, who is representing Cinnabar Service Co., one of the appraisal companies named in the lawsuit, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Marr said he hopes a trial will be held this year.

“We intend to push for it. It’s doable,” he said. “The people have waited long enough.”

Trust formation

THE LEAD-IMPACTED Communities Relocation Assistance Trust was formed in 2006 after a study by the Army Corps of Engineers found that the abandoned mines under Picher, Cardin and Hockerville had a high risk of caving in.

1
Text Only
Top Stories
  • r041514recycledfashion.jpg Joplin High School students to model ‘recycled’ dresses at fashion show

    Audrey Kaman will walk the runway later this week wearing a dress she designed herself — made out of 250 doilies. “I’d say it’s a fun dress,” the Joplin High School sophomore said. “It’s not really elegant because it’s short, but it’s cute.”

    April 15, 2014 4 Photos

  • Shooter in Joplin murder sentenced to life in prison

    The teen convicted of being the triggerman in the murder of Jacob Wages was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison with the possibility of parole. At a hearing in Jasper County Circuit Court in Joplin, Circuit Judge Gayle Crane followed a jury’s recommendations in assessing Daniel D. Hartman, 18, two life sentences on convictions for second-degree murder and armed criminal action, and 15 years on a conviction for burglary.

    April 15, 2014

  • Interchange construction work near Carterville to create safer off-ramp

    As the Missouri Department of Transportation begins rebuilding eastbound ramps at the Missouri Highway 171 and Route HH interchange near Carterville this week, drivers can expect ramp and occasional lane closures. The $1.5 million project, funded by the state, will increase the distance between ramps for drivers traveling northbound on Highway 249 and exiting eastbound to Highway 171.

    April 15, 2014

  • Schreiber Foods schedules Carthage plant expansion

    Plans to expand a Schreiber Foods plant to eventually add 160 new jobs have been endorsed by a Carthage committee working with the company. Andrew Tobish, director of combinations for Schreiber, which is based in Green Bay, Wis., confirmed the project, which he said would be complete by late spring or early summer in 2015.

    April 15, 2014

  • 3 To Get Ready

    Three things coming your way in Wednesday’s paper.

    April 15, 2014

  • Local Jews offer reactions to Overland Park shooting

    Jews in Joplin and throughout the region are struggling to come to terms with Sunday’s shooting at a Jewish community center and a Jewish retirement complex in suburban Kansas City, resulting in three deaths. The suspect has been identified as Frazier Glenn Cross, 73, of Aurora.

    April 14, 2014

  • Suspect in Kansas shooting has long history as white supremacist

    Frazier Glenn Cross drew the ire of Joplin residents in 2006 when several hundred copies of his white supremacist newspaper were landing on lawns in the city. The White Patriot Leader spouted the usual Cross diatribe. A race war was imminent. The “newspaper for white Americans,” as it billed itself, ranted against an invasion of the country by illegal Hispanic immigrants, the proliferation of black culture, and a purported takeover of the government, banks and the media by Jews.

    April 14, 2014

  • r041414wildwood.jpg Opening of nursing home another recovery milestone

    Gladys Dutton has done a lot of things in her life, but Monday’s dedication of the Communities at Wildwood Ranch nursing home marked a first. “I’ve never cut a ribbon before,” she said. “I hope I do a good job.” Dutton was one of four residents to participate in the opening of the $8.5 million nursing center that eventually will be home to 120 people.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mike Seibert elected new mayor of Joplin

    Joplin’s new mayor pledged Monday night that the city will operate with more transparency and that work toward redevelopment will be the City Council’s priority. Mike Seibert, who withstood a challenge by another incumbent councilman in last Tuesday’s election to be the Zone 4 councilman, was elected mayor by a unanimous vote of the panel Monday night.

    April 14, 2014

  • 3 To Get Ready

    Members of the new Joplin City Council, in the wake of the April 8 election and turmoil that roiled to the surface last August, will elect a mayor and mayor pro tem. Read all of the details.

    April 14, 2014