June 23, 2009
Last Chapter in Eminent Domain Epic
JACKSONVILLE, FL—(Marketwire – June 22, 2009) – The Jacksonville Port Authority (Jaxport) and Keystone have reached a “global settlement” concluding eminent domain litigation that began in 2005. The settlement involves both Keystone’s purchase of the neighboring property from Jaxport and Keystone’s release of claims against Jaxport. While there exists multiple components to the settlement, Keystone will pay its own attorney’s fees in the eminent domain case at $6.6 million and pay Jaxport an additional net sum of $6.6 million in the purchase of the adjacent 38 acres.
The possibility of a “global settlement” opened up when Keystone’s lawyers Brigham Moore, LLP, Florida’s leading eminent domain and property rights defense firm, offered to compromise their awarded attorney’s fees of $10.5 million by a 40% discount to $6.5 million. “Although we believe the awarded fee is both lawful and entirely reasonable because it is proportional to the benefits secured for our client, we made our offer of compromise to be sensitive to the present times and to allow both Jaxport and our client Keystone to move forward in their respective public and private enterprises,” said Andrew Brigham, Keystone’s lead counsel and Owners’ Counsel of America (OCA) Moderator.
In June 2008, Keystone’s lawyers achieved a record-breaking jury verdict of $67,410,000 which established an effective blockade to the exercise of eminent domain. Jaxport, however, became resourceful in settlement negotiations by agreeing to convey the authority’s interest in an adjacent property to Keystone. Jaxport previously acquired the adjacent waterfront property at a favorable price to assemble with the property it sought to condemn from Keystone. By conveying the property to Keystone, Jaxport stands to make a substantial profit for a property it considers too small to develop on its own so as to meet its customers’ needs. While its decision to use eminent domain to accomplish a private-to-private transfer was ill-fated, the authority’s moves at the end of day have put the public port back on track to achieve its goal of being among the top tier of elite ports on the U.S. East Coast.
Keystone’s owner, Tom Scholl, is now able to proceed with his plans for a bulk terminal that will handle coal, pet coke, and stone cargoes. “I fought to keep what I thought the freedom in our country was there to preserve,” Scholl said. He added, “It was a heavy burden to litigate with a public port authority where I had no choice because of eminent domain so, as we approached the trial, knowing that life is full of uncertainties, I resolved to ‘let the chips fall where they may.’ I am thankful that we have a judicial check and balance, together with a jury decision on value, that is there to guard the civil right of a private property owner when the powerful government advances what it says is good for the public.”
Brigham also commented, “Overall, we continue to be glad for a victory in the case because our work at trial achieved the thing most desired by our client and that was to keep his property which he refers to as ‘the gem of the St. Johns River.’ Jaxport should be commended for their efforts to secure a win-win solution. I believe it was the efforts of legal counsel, Deborah Walters, combined with a timely hands-on approach by Jaxport’s Board of Directors, particularly Buck Fowler and Bill Mason, which opened the possibilities for our making lemonade out of sour lemons.”