Biffle v. Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative, No. 15-2964 (8th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs, a class of landowners subject to Sho-Me's easements, filed suit against Sho-Me and Tech for trespass and unjust enrichment after the companies used fiber-optic cable for commercial telecommunications. The district court certified the class and granted it summary judgment on liability. A jury trial was held on the issue of damages and the jury awarded plaintiffs over $79 million. The court concluded that Sho-Me and Tech's use exceeded the scope of the easements. The court explained that, under Missouri law, the companies exceeded their rights by using the fiber-optic cable for unauthorized purposes and thus their use became a trespass. The court also concluded that plaintiffs failed to identify any Missouri cases recognizing unjust enrichment as a remedy for unauthorized land use. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the unjust enrichment claim. The court noted that, on remand, plaintiffs may choose to pursue damages on their trespass claim. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in certifying the class. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings.