The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 20, 2013

Appraisal company appeals judge’s decision in class-action lawsuit in Picher buyout

By Wally Kennedy
Globe Staff Writer

TULSA, Okla. — A decision to certify 220 former residents of Picher as a class in a lawsuit that alleges their properties were intentionally undervalued by appraisers working for the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust is being appealed.

Cinnabar Service Co. Inc., of Tulsa, an appraisal company and a defendant in the class action, recently filed the appeal with the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

In a hearing on March 1 before Judge Dana Kuehn, with Tulsa County District Court, Cinnabar objected to certification on grounds that the element of “predominance/superiority’’ was not present for the court to certify the residents as a class.

It argued that each plaintiff — instead of one representative case of the plaintiffs — must prove that the value of the properties was “lowballed’’ by the appraiser.

Those same arguments are the basis of the appeal, according to court documents obtained from the Office of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts in Oklahoma City.

After receiving written arguments from lawyers on both sides, Kuehn said the actual loss in value for each property did not have to be proven, only whether there was a conspiracy among appraisers and the insurance companies to defraud the plaintiffs by lowballing the appraisals.

Joe Fears, an attorney with Barber & Bartz, of Tulsa, who filed the appeal for Cinnabar, could not be reached for comment.

Besides Cinnabar, other defendants are Van Tuyl & Associates, a Tulsa appraisal firm, and numerous insurance agencies, including Allstate and State Farm.

The plaintiffs have dismissed the trust and two named individuals as defendants. The individuals are Larry Roberts, operations manager for the trust, and J.D. Strong, former Oklahoma secretary of the environment.

Trust formation

The Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust was formed in 2006 after a study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that the abandoned mines under Picher, Cardin and Hockerville had a high risk of caving in. More than 700 pieces of property were involved in the buyout.