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Lose a lawsuit, pay the price

Bill adds consequence for plaintiffs who lose 'frivolous' anti-development lawsuits

Posted: March 25, 2014 - 12:03am
Rep. Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, introduces House Bill 47 to the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Capitol on Monday. The bill requires a party seeking a restraining order, preliminary injunction, or order vacating or staying the operation of certain permits affecting an industrial operation to give security in the amount the court considers proper for costs incurred and damages suffered if the industrial operation is wrongfully enjoined or restrained.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Rep. Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, introduces House Bill 47 to the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Capitol on Monday. The bill requires a party seeking a restraining order, preliminary injunction, or order vacating or staying the operation of certain permits affecting an industrial operation to give security in the amount the court considers proper for costs incurred and damages suffered if the industrial operation is wrongfully enjoined or restrained.

Alaskans who fight industrial development with lawsuits will have to think twice about whether they can afford to lose if a proposal before the state legislature becomes law.

HB47, sponsored by Rep. Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, aims to curtail the practice of some who might ask the courts to stop or put a project on hold just because they don’t like it.

The intent of the legislation is to “level playing field, and put those who file those suits on notice that they too have financial consequences,” Feige told the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday.

The bill discourages individuals from using lawsuits as stall tactics by instructing judges to consider making the plaintiff liable for the companies’ financial losses — such as wages owed to workers and lease fees on borrowed equipment — that stem from delayed projects.

Currently, plaintiffs can be required to post a bond prior to an injunction order is issued that is forfeited if they lose the case. This bill does not specify how large a bond must be — or that a bond must be issued.

“The court continues to have full discretion,” Feige said.

Critics of the bill call it a silencer for most Alaskans who will view the potential costs as prohibitive. Municipalities and state agencies are exempted from being required to submit bonds in these cases.

“If I want to petition the court to stop something that’s affecting me and my backyard — wherever that backyard may be in the state of Alaska — I now have to have potentially millions of dollars that I can secure,” said James Sullivan, the legislative organizer for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “That basically knocks out about 99 percent of Alaskans.”

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage previously called the bill a “gag order” because the potential costs are “an amount of money that could bankrupt most Alaskans.”

“They’re not going to stand up to defend their rights,” he added.

When it passed the House floor earlier this month, supporters said the bill is aimed at stopping frivolous lawsuits being employed to stop a project that has already met rigorous permitting standards.

Committee chair Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, said that determining what damages to the company are and how those figures are tabulated needs to happen.

Limited by time Monday, the committee took no other testimony on the bill, but Coghill said it would be brought up again.

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Dot Wilson
406
Points
Dot Wilson 03/25/14 - 07:59 am
10
7
It's about time

someone started protecting the people who want to create jobs and support the community and the State financially. So many of the injunctions requested against development are specifically timed so that businesses have geared up for work and are then stopped. That is bad for business and bad for citizens who are counting on jobs. I was told once by an attorney for a well known organization that their attorneys specifically time their complaints to drag out the procedure as long as they can; then throw a lawsuit or injunction in to block them. If there is a 90-day time limit for filing a complaint, they wait 89 days to file it. It is a game for the attorneys and the way they justify their existence, but it serious for a business who needs to plan their business and pay their employees.

The law says anyone can sue anyone at any time. Well that is fine, but if there is nothing at stake for the person who files the suit, the playing field is not very equal. I totally support HB47.

Rusty Shackleford
17
Points
Rusty Shackleford 03/25/14 - 09:47 am
8
7
Much needed

The days of frivilous and never ending lawsuits are coming to a close. No longer will out of state environmental groups be so quick to file lawsuits they know will lose just for the sake of delaying development. Gone are the days of SEACC losing fair and square, only to file another lawsuit that will eventually fail, repeating the process ad nausem until the company goes bankrupt or pulls out, costing the state hundreds or thousands of high-paying jobs.

If your case has merit, and you fully believe in it, then you should have no problem filing it. If it is, in fact, a valid argument, you will win the case. If not, you are held accountable.

Attornies would be wise to think twice and actually evaluate whether or not it is a good idea to bring the case forward, or at least make sure it is a strong case at the beginning.

Bill Burk
12627
Points
Bill Burk 03/25/14 - 10:22 am
5
5
Lawsuits

I have YET to understand why so many of the citizens of our city and state are so eager to allow the destruction of the environment for construction. We of Juneau and the state have a beautiful landscape the surrounds us, and by allowing too much construction our city and state will look exactly like down south. I for one moved her almost 39 years ago to escape the depletion of the natural resources that occurs down south.

Dot Wilson
406
Points
Dot Wilson 03/25/14 - 12:54 pm
8
5
Bill Buck I appreciate

Juneau's natural beauty too, and Juneau has been my home way longer than it has been yours. Development does not mean destruction. There are a lot of communities in Alaska who do not have the ability to develop and grow. They are probably looking for new people to live there. You probably came to Alaska because you could see an opportunity to earn a living as did most of us.

Bill Burk
12627
Points
Bill Burk 03/25/14 - 12:58 pm
6
0
Alaska

I came to Ak originally to fish. After some years of it I went back to teaching

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