Hillview looking to get some portions of verdict reversed

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - A city facing an $11.4 million judgment is looking for some relief from a Bullitt Circuit judge.

Mark Edison, attorney for the city of Hillview, filed a motion in Bullitt Circuit Court asking judge Rodney Burress to reconsider portions of the jury judgment in favor of Truck America Training.

But attorneys Andrew Beshear and Scott Wantland, representing the trucking company located off Ferguson Lane, argued that the jury was justified in its unanimous decision on damages against the city.

In August, the 12-member jury panel recommended that the city damaged the trucking company by not allowing it to have possession of a 40-acre tract. The property next to the current trucking training facility would be used for heavy equipment training.

The company trains individuals to drive tractor-trailer trucks and heavy equipment. It had a lease with the option to purchase the property with the city. Burress ruled earlier this year that the city had breached its contract and the August trial was to determine damages.

In his argument, Edison said that the jury was misled by some of the testimony presented at trial.

For example, Deborah Carter, one of the owners of Truck America, stated that the company had been evicted from the 40-acre tract by police. Edison said she knew that the company voluntarily left the property in March 2006 when a Bullitt circuit judge ruled in favor of the city on the dispute. He said they returned to the property after the court of appeals overturned the lower court decision and sent it back to the local courts. That occurred in 2008, when they were removed from the property and cited.

Another issue of misinformation, according to Edison, occurred with the testimony of the financial expert. During his testimony, Edison said the expert based his number of lost students on phone calls taken from 2005-12. The witness did not relate the number of calls to the number of applications to the number of students who actually enrolled in the training school.

When he asked for the applications, Edison said he was told that they did not exist.

In his next argument for relief, Edison said that James and Deborah Carter said that the holding company bought and sold equipment. However, Edison said there was no evidence presented to show any heavy equipment that was bought or sold.

His final argument dealt with the award for the heavy equipment. Edison said the jury took the allowed amount and split that in half.

“This is nothing but speculation,” Edison said of the basis for the award.

In response, Beshear said that to make these arguments, there must be proof of “passion or prejudice” and he saw neither during the trial.

“The jury did its job,” said Beshear.

He argued that the motion should be denied by Burress.

The arguments made by Edison during Wednesday’s hearing could have been made during the trial, said Beshear.

He said there was testimony on all the points argued by Edison and that the jury had this information when making its decision.

In his questioning of both parties, Burress inquired why the city had not brought up some of the issues during the trial.

In terms of the applications not being made available, Beshear said that due to sensitive information on the documents, they are not released and ultimately destroyed after six months. 

Edison said he didn’t understand how the financial expert could examine them before trial if they had been destroyed.

The judge asked Beshear on why the jury would have split the damage request on the sold equipment.

The attorney said that there are several speculations. One would be that the jury may have felt the trucking company sold the property too quickly or that they didn’t sell it for the right amount. The reason he felt might be most appropriate was that the jury felt some of the equipment costs should have been part of the cost of training the students and absorbed in the tuition.

While not issuing a final order on Wednesday, Burress said he felt there was enough evidence presented to allow the holding company legal and not a reason to set aside the judgment.

He also felt the information on financing and enrollment of students was available to the city at the time of the trial and could not be used as a reason to overturn any portion of the jury’s decision.

The other issues posed by Edison would be taken under advisement for a future ruling.

The story over the 40 acres started in 2004 when a lease-purchase agreement was signed between Truck America and Hillview.

 The trucking company paid $3,500 a month and that would go toward a purchase price of $800,000. Once litigation was settled in the city’s suit against Homeplate Enterprises, the trucking company would have the right to purchase the land.

A letter was written seeking the ability to purchase the tract but the city refused. At one point in the discussions, two other clients were listed as potential property owners.

The trucking company sued over the city’s breach of contract. It would have used the 40 acres for the heavy equipment training, as well as collateral for financing, which would be used to help students through the intensive training.

Due to the loss of the property, the owners claimed that the number of students decreased quickly and their ability to operate both schools ceased.

The $11.4 million judgment included funds for the lost students and the equipment losses.

The city has already said it would appeal Burress’ final decision.