Real Estate

Batten Down The Hatches - Dealing With Business Lawsuits

September, 2016

By: Melinda M. Sanders and Kenneth H. Bayliss

Melinda Sanders Kenneth Bayliss

Most businesses will eventually be faced with some type of lawsuit. Here are basic tips to help you through the process:

Don't Ignore the Lawsuit Papers

If you receive a Summons and Complaint, you must respond, usually within 20 days. Failure to respond in a timely manner will lead to results you would rather avoid.

Don't Do Anything Foolish Upon Receiving Lawsuit Papers

Before anything else, take a deep breath and step back. Try not to react emotionally to the lawsuit. Understand that while litigation may be painful it's the best mechanism our society has for resolving many disputes. Do not contact the other party to vent your frustrations. Do not make any statements about the matter and get your attorney on the line quickly.

Hire an Attorney

Civil lawsuits have very technical processes and it is to your advantage to work with an attorney. Contact your business advice attorney and if he or she is not a litigator, seek a referral to an attorney who is. It is important to hire experienced attorneys, ones familiar with litigation and knowledgeable in assessing strategy and the value of your case.

Make Sure To Retain Relevant Evidence: The Litigation Hold

Once you know of a claim you will need to implement a "litigation hold." This preserves all evidence that may be relevant to the lawsuit, including documents, photographs, emails, texts, voice mails, and meta data. You may have a fantastic case, but if information in your control goes missing, the judge or jury may blame you for it and assume the worst.

Understand the Process

In very basic outline, here is the process you will go through during the lawsuit:

  • Answering the Complaint

You will work with your attorney to file an answer to the Complaint. If you have a potential claim against the other party, discuss it with your attorney at this time.

  • Initial Disclosures

Parties must automatically exchange basic information about the lawsuit. This includes information about key witnesses and documents, an itemization of damages, and insurance information.

  • Written Discovery and Depositions

Both sides are permitted to serve written questions on each other and request documents. This process, "discovery," also allows the parties to take depositions. Your attorney will be present and will prepare you in advance if you are deposed.

  • Mediation

Current rules require the parties to consider "Alternative Dispute Resolution" ("ADR"). In most cases this will be mediation, a non-binding process. Most cases settle at mediation or shortly thereafter. Sometimes it will be appropriate to try to mediate the case very early on.

  • Trial

When lawsuits are not resolved by motions or ADR, they are tried to a judge or a jury. Trials usually take place within approximately one year of the filing of the lawsuit, though there is considerable variation in the amount of time from filing to trial. Once the matter is tried-either to a judge or jury-a decision will be handed down. Parties generally have 60 days to appeal from the decision of the judge or jury.

  • Keep Your Eye on the Ball

During the lawsuit, make sure you focus on your business, and remember your business is not the lawsuit. Do not let the fear of what might end up on the expense side of the balance sheet cause you to ignore the revenue side. And almost as importantly, try to control your reaction to the lawsuit. Do not let it rule your life.

Abiding these few tips will help you better navigate the seas of litigation.


Big Win for Rajkowski, Holthaus
Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Landowners

March 4, 2015

Michael Rajkowski Rachael Pressler

On March 4, 2015 the Supreme Court issued a ruling stating that utility companies must purchase a property in whole for fair market value if it constructs a 200KV or larger power line, and the line crosses any contiguous and commercially viable land. Quinlivan & Hughes' attorney Michael Rajkowski and Rachael Holthaus successfully argued on behalf of the clients Dale and Janet Tauer, who are owners of agricultural land that was slated to have a 200KV CAPX 2020 power line constructed across their property.

The utility, Great River Energy, argued that it should only have to compensate the Tauers for the easement needed to construct the power line, and no more. Rajkowski and Holthaus successfully argued that Great River Energy must purchase the property as a whole as elected by the Tauers. The Tauers made this election pursuant to Minnesota law, which seeks to protect agricultural landowners from utility companies that take their property for the use and construction of power lines.

"This is a big win for landowners", said Rajkowski. "No longer will they have to worry about a power line decimating the value of their property."

Rajkowski Successful in Capx2020 High-Voltage Transmission Line Matter

May 30, 2013

Michael RajkowskiQuinlivan & Hughes attorney Michael Rajkowski successfully argued before the Minnesota Supreme Court in the CapX2020 high-voltage transmission line matter that landowners are entitled to relocation costs and minimum compensation. The decision overturns a Court of Appeals decision and affirms the ruling by Stearns County District Court Judge Frank Kundrat.

The case involves landowners who invoked the Buy the Farm statute, which allows homeowners and farmers to force a utility to purchase their entire property at fair market value rather than selling an easement to the utility. Judge Kundrat previously ruled that the homeowners who invoked the Buy the Farm statute were entitled to relocation costs and minimum compensation. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals, however, reversed that decision, in a 2-1 vote. Court of Appeals Judge Edward Cleary dissented, writing that the landowners essentially were forced from their property by an involuntary taking by CapX and that they were entitled to the compensation and relocation costs.

The Supreme Court decision overturned that Court of Appeals decision agreeing with Judge Cleary's dissent. The Supreme Court's decision can be found.

DSC00576Has the government taken a condemnation / eminent domain action against you? Know your rights and protect your investment. Contact the Quinlivan & Hughes Condemnation and Eminent Domain team today!

CapX2020 Eminent Domain

September 27, 2012

CapX2020 Project

CapX2020 is a joint initiative of 11 transmission-owning utilities in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Wisconsin to expand the electric transmission grid. CapX2020 will follow the I-94 corridor and will use eminent domain, the taking of private property for the public good, as it is needed. The high voltage lines are expected to be constructed and transmitting electricity by 2014.

Where the line is going
The CapX2020 power line will cross through the St. Cloud area in two phases. The first phase includes private properties between Monticello and St. Cloud and the second phase includes private properties between St. Cloud and Fargo.

Monticello to St. Cloud
The route for the Monticello to St. Cloud phase has already been determined, and a "take date" of February 22, 2011 has been set. An interactive map of this route can be found here:

St. Cloud to Fargo
UPDATE 06/10/2011: The Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved Administrative Law Judge Beverly Jones Heydinger's recommended route for a high-voltage power line from St. Cloud to Fargo, a segment of a $1.7 billion project that is one of the largest expansions of the power grid in Minnesota. The St. Cloud-to-Fargo segment will mostly follow Interstate 94, except for a diversion on a section between St. Cloud and Sauk Centre.

UPDATE 05/20/2011: Stearns County Judge Frank J. Kundrat ruled in favor of Quinlivan & Hughes attorney Michael C. Rajkowski and his client on a CapX2020 matter. Our client elected to require CapX2020 to buy their home, because power lines will be on their property. CapX2020 took the position that our client did not qualify for the additional benefits of a full take under the statute, because they were not "forced" to leave their home. Judge Kundrat agreed with attorney Rajkowski and ruled that CapX2020 must make the full take and compensate our client accordingly.

To discuss this ruling further or to inquire about your rights under eminent domain law, contact Mike Rajkowski at (320) 251-1414.

UPDATE 04/26/2011: An administrative law judge has recommended routing a Fargo-to-St. Cloud high-voltage power transmission line away from the Interstate Highway 94 corridor once it approaches Freeport and then south of Avon Hills and St. John's University before it heads east to St. Cloud. Administrative Law Judge Beverly Jones Heydinger's recommendation on where to put the line will be sent to the Public Utilities Commission, which is expected to make a decision this summer on the location of the line. The route Heydinger preferred costs about $1.4 million more than the route preferred by Xcel and Great River Energy, and it heads farther south than their preferred route. Heydinger's decision came after public input sessions and testimony from organizations and residents who would be potentially affected.

Judge Beverly Jones Heydinger's Recommended Route

Protect your rights
Whether a utility is planning to take all or only a portion of your property, it is important to have an independent appraisal done before you sign your name to any agreement. Your property is an investment, and the addition of an unsightly power line pole or the loss of a freeway tree buffer could impact the value of your property significantly.

Hiring an Attorney
It is important to remember that public utilities are a business. Overall profitability relies on keeping costs, including what is paid in eminent domain settlements, as low as possible. If your property is going to be taken and the utility offer price is significantly lower than your independent appraisal, you should protect your property investment and hire a reputable eminent domain attorney.

Why Hire Quinlivan & Hughes?
Attorney Keith Hughes has nearly 40 years of experience helping clients with Eminent Domain matters. His partner Michael Rajkowski adds another 10 years of experience. Together, Keith and Mike can help guide you through the process of property condemnation and help insure that you are receiving fair compensation for your property.

How Are Eminent Domain Attorneys Paid?
Eminent Domain Attorneys are paid 2 ways, hourly or on a contingent basis. If you choose to pay hourly, you will pay the attorney only for the time he works on your file. If you choose to pay on a contingent basis, you will only pay your attorney a percentage of the final award, and nothing until that occurs. Individual circumstances may find either option a better choice.

In Minnesota, state law provides for full attorney reimbursement by the utility if the court award is 40% more than their (the utility's) final written offer. If the court award is 20% to 40% more than the utilities final written offer, attorneys fees can still be paid by the utility at the discretion of the court.