9/15/2004

Former Landowners Sue IPL Over Land Sale


By A.J. Nelson

A group of former owners of land they once sold to Indianapolis Power and Light Company have sued the electric utility to get back some of the profit the utility gained after IPL sold the land.

The attorney representing the group, Richard Boe, filed the lawsuit Monday in Morgan Superior court, asking that the utility return part of the profit from the sale to the former landowners and their heirs. IPL had aquired the land as a possible location for a power plant.

“This is a lawsuit over the taking of private property for public purposes and never used, and sold to reap profits from that,” Boe said.

Boe explained that when IPL first began to acquire the land in 1975, the company talked to several landowners, who say they felt pressured to sell to the utility or risk fighting a court battle they knew they couldn’t win.

“They said, ‘You either give us your property, or you give it to us through eminent domain’,” Boe said. “People sold land to IPL when they came, because they realized they couldn’t stand up to a large utility in court.”

Boe said that none of the 4,000-plus acres IPL acquired in southern Morgan County was done through the eminent domain process in the courts. Property owners were paid for their land.

The lawsuit comes after IPL sold the land to the state and a group of Martinsville natives for a total of $13 million late last year. The state purchased 1,500 acres for $4.5 million, and a group that includes Martinsville residents Gary Etter, Jerry Cragen, Harmon Crone, and John and Ann Marvel purchased the remaining 2,500 acres for $8.5 million.

Boe said the group isn’t seeking a return of the land or money from the state or the Martinsville group, but said IPL wasn’t entitled to profit from land, whose value increased from $500 an acre in the 1970’s to around $3,500 an acre today.

“There are three elements to the lawsuit,” Boe said. “One is, violation of eminent domain statute. The second is conversion, where IPL sold and harvested trees through the years; and third, unjust enrichment, they bought and profited from land that they didn’t use for the purposes intended.”

Boe said the case had the potential to effect property rights laws, not just in Indiana, but across the country.

“You don’t see many cases that have these kinds of issues, as in this case,” Boe said. “What we’re basically looking for is to return that profit taken unjustly to the (former) land owners or their next of kin.

“I think this case could impact other states.”

No initial hearing date for the case has been set yet. Attempts to contact Indianapolis Power and Light for comment on the lawsuit were unsuccessful.



The Mooresville-Decatur times: www.md-times.com