The Monett City Council is considering a settlement of a little over $300,000, with related fees, to resolve the damage suit by Jason and Jennifer Inman for unauthorized intrusion and damages to the couple's property in the Valley View subdivision.
The Inmans' case dates back to 2004 and generated a legal file that reached 1,817 pages at the appeals level. The Missouri Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city's co-defendant, St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company, on June 29, 2011, clearing the insurance company of any obligation to pay. Mediation on July 24 determined the proposed settlement amount.
The complex legal case may not be over, since the city retained legal counsel to explore possible legal action against its former city attorney, John Woodard.
According to the facts in the case detailed by the Missouri Court of Appeals in its ruling, Monett Street Department crews in 2004 "intentionally entered upon the Inmans' property to take a portion for reconstructing a drainage ditch for the public purpose of controlling water drainage." No permission was given to the city for the action of the crews.
Following a heavy rainfall on Aug. 28, 2004, which caused flooding in the subdivision, city crews returned on Sept. 1, 2004 to expand the storm drain and pour a concrete floor, again without authorization by the Inmans. No settlement was reached in negotiations between the Inmans' attorney, Mark Stephens, and the city.
The city subsequently filed a condemnation suit, which was dropped when the city and the Inmans reached a memorandum of understanding on March 27, 2005. The Inmans agreed construction of a water drainage system was necessary for the public good and could be completed. The Inmans reserved the right to seek damages for two days of trespassing.
After the storm water improvements were finished, funded through a neighborhood improvement district (NID) agreed upon by subdivision residents, the Inmans refiled their suit in Sept. 2005 in Lawrence County Circuit Court against the city and its insurance company.
St. Paul's adjuster, Kelly Rahmeier, determined the insurance policy did not apply to property taken for public use. Woodard failed to tell Rahmeier about the signed settlement agreement when she asked about one.
On Oct. 25, 2006, the city entered into a compromise agreement with the Inmans. The Inmans agreed not to execute any judgment received by them against the city, and the city agreed not to appeal any judgment against it.
On Nov. 1, 2006, the Inmans' case went to trial. The Inmans amended their petition to introduce substantially different arguments than their original filing. However, the amended petition was not sent to the insurance company, though promises were made to do so.
Notice of the trial date was not received by St. Paul's until after the trial had been held. Consequently, the insurance company was not represented at the hearing. According to Woodard, Stephens sent notification of the hearing to Rahmeier, who already said the insurace company was not liable.
"Woodard admitted he was trying to bring the claims under the coverage of the policy so that St. Paul would be forced to provide a defense and the city would not have to pay to defend against the Inmans' lawsuit," the Appeals Court determined.
Judge Alan Blankenship, hearing the case in Stone County Circuit Court, was told the original petition and the amended petition were the same, though Woodard subsequently admitted there were substantial differences. After motions were filed, a bench trial was held and a verdict rendered on behalf of the Inmans.
A judgment of $452,097.50 was awarded. The origin of the total was not documented. The Appeals Court wrote, "Woodard offered no evidence, witnesses or exhibits, and did not challenge the foundation, amount or method of determining any of the damages, either emotional or property, to which the Inmans' testified."
The Inmans filed the order with the insurance company on Feb. 16, 2007, seeking payment in full.
St. Paul appealed and the case was heard by Barton County Associate Circuit Judge Charles Curless on Feb. 24, 2010. The Inmans sought to make additional arguments in the case, which the court did not allow because they were not done in a timely manner. Curless ordered a summary judgment for St. Paul.
The Appeals Court upheld Curless' ruling. The judges determined that the lack of knowledge about changes in the suit prejudiced the case unfairly against the insurance company, being unable to mount a defense. They found the memorandum of understanding, signed by the Inmans, admitted the property taken by the city for public use to improve storm water drainage, which was excluded by St. Paul's policy.
With the Inmans' appeal having failed, the judgment fell back on the city for payment. Judge Blankenship voided the city's Oct. 25, 2006, compromise agreement with the Inmans. Blankenship found that the compromise had not been properly adopted as an ordinance.
The original judgment against the city carried a 9 percent interest charge while the case remained under appeal, totaling $110 a day.
The settlement reached with the city reduced the total due from $647,848.49 to $295,000, plus $2,597 in court fees, and a fee of $2,691.50 to mediator Phillip R. Garrison.
The ordinance accepting the agreement states, "It is the judgment of the City Council that the compromise settlement is in the best fiscal interest of the city."
The council has scheduled public comment for 8 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 3.