SW Legal studies in Business

Phone Company Abuses Right-of-Way Authority in Effort to Obtain Title to Property
Description

Kentucky high court noted that telephone companies, as utilities, have certain right-of-way authority to obtain easements. That authority cannot be used as a way to obtain title to property desired by the company. That is an abuse of process for which the property owner has a cause of action.

Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words

Utility; Right of Way; Condemnation; Easement; Abuse

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Under Kentucky law, the telephone company Sprint has limited power to condemn a right of way across private property for a permanent utility easement. Sprint wanted to expand its service in an area. For that, it needed a new location for a building with equipment. It determined that land owned by Leggett, which had a photography studio on it, would be ideal. Leggett bought the property in 1990 for $325,000. Sprint wanted the land; it intended to demolish the building and build a new one. It offered Leggett $200,000. Leggett said he would sell for $900,000. Sprint said it could force Leggett to give up the property by its right of way authority. It upped the offer to $250,000, but a professional appraisal priced the property at $750,000. Sprint filed a condemnation action to acquire the property; court-appointed commissioners valued the property at $600,000 and ordered it sold to Sprint at that price. Leggett sued for abuse of process. The trial court held for Sprint; the appeals court affirmed in part and reversed in part; appeal was made to the Kentucky high court.

Decision

Affirmed in part; reversed in part. Sprint’s filing for condemnation to acquire Leggett’s property in fee simple title was an abuse of process. The company is entitled only to obtain right-of-way easements, not obtain control of property for construction purposes. It had no special authority in obtaining title to property. Hence, Leggett could sue for abuse of process as Sprint abused is limited authority. Showing an ulterior motive on the part of Sprint is not necessary for Leggett to have a claim.

Citation Sprint Communications v. Leggett, ---S.W.3d--- (2010 WL 997532, Sup. Ct., Ky., 2010)

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