Lawyers in City's civil suit against NAF submit post trial briefs, await Chancellor's ruling

By Abby Morris
Star Staff

Lawyers in the City of Elizabethton's civil lawsuit against North American Corporation, North American Fibers, North American Research and Development Corporation and Charles Green filed their post trial briefs with the Chancellor's office Friday.
   When the trial portion of the lawsuit concluded on Dec. 18, 2002, Chancellor Richard Johnson gave lawyers a deadline of Jan. 10 to file the post trial briefs to sum up their arguments in the case and to provide information on similar trials to aid the Chancellor in his decision. "There are a number of legal issues that this court must sort out and address," Johnson said during the last day of the trial.
   The suit filed by the city is asking that NAF, NAC, NARDC and Green individually and as the "alter ego" of eight companies be held responsible for the building of a new section of sewer line after a landfill was built over the existing line on the NAF property. The amount of the suit is more than $1 million and covers the cost of the design and construction of the new sewer line as well as interest for yearly maintenance.
   The city contests that it was denied appropriate access to the line under the terms of the sewer line easement agreement it has with the corporations and also that the line was damaged by the added burden of the landfill which was created over it.
   "As indicated in prior briefs, the City has always been entitled to unimpeded access to the entire length of its West Main interceptor which has been burdened by a capped NAC landfill since 1988. Easement law has always been on the City's side," according to the brief submitted by Charlton DeVault, attorney for the city in this lawsuit.
   The brief for the plaintiff cites a 1951 case which states that "the dominant owner has the right to lay the line; he has the right of access to make repairs and properly patrol the line and make such use of the easement as is reasonable, but with as little burden on the servient estate as the nature of the easement and the object will permit."
   The post trial brief submitted by Stephen Anderson, attorney for the defendants, states that the original grant for the easement states that the intention of the easement was "to convey only such rights or easements over said land as is reasonably necessary to construct said interceptor sewer line, and to maintain same."
   The brief goes on to further state that "It was not 'absolutely necessary' in the maintenance and repair of the line that the surface above it be kept free of accumulated fly ash."
   Beyond the debate over whether the landfill imposed a burden upon the city's west interceptor sewer line, one of the main issues the case addresses is whether or not Charles Green should be held responsible as the alter ego for the companies.
   According to the city's post trial brief, "Charles Green is liable for any relief to be afforded the City because he has personally been denying the City access to its sewer line since Johanne Coetzee's 1995 demand and has been personally refusing to defray the cost to the City of constructing a bypass sewer line around the landfill. Defendant Green is also liable as the 'alter ego' of both NAC and NAF because he personally assumed liability for the landfill-sewer line situation by dealing with the landfill property as if it were his own after he became the sole shareholder, as well as the President and CEO of NAC and NAF in 1999-2000, threatened that NAF would be insolvent if it were ever sued by the City, transferred the landfill and NAF property to a third party corporation, continued to represent to the City that he was the person in authority who could resolve the landfill/sewer line dispute, and moved money and assets between NAC subsidiaries NAC and himself."
   The defense refutes that claim and states that Green has no liability for the sewer line problem personally and further states that Green is not the alter ego for the corporations involved in the suit.
   "The evidence does not show that Mr. Green ever became the alter ego of NARC or NAFI, much less that he used his control of the companies to cause injury to the City. Mr. Green caused no injury to the City, period." states the defense brief.
   Johnson told both the plaintiff and the defense during the last day of the three-day trial in December that after the post trial briefs were submitted, it would be February and possibly March before he is ready to render a decision in what he called "a complex case."