City responds to motion for change of venue by NAF

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

Attorneys for the city of Elizabethton responded yesterday to a motion filed by three Carter County residents requesting that a trial for the suit the city has against North American Fibers be moved to Washington County. The city's attorneys say that, according to Tennessee Code, such a request applies only to cases where a jury is necessary to decide the factual issues of a Circuit or Chancery Court case.
   In the document submitted to the Clerk and Master's office, the attorneys state that there has been no demand for a jury in the case and, therefore, the motion for a change of venue appears to be a "mistake." The case is to be heard by a Chancellor at a bench trial, not a jury trial.
   The attorneys stated that, while the provisions of the Tennessee Code that describe the contents of the application for the change of venue do not mention a jury when referring to "a fair and impartial trial in the county," the other sections of the Code make it clear that the change of venue request applies only to jury trials and not bench trials.
   The document states, "The City of Elizabethton has never demanded a jury in this case because it has always sought traditional equitable relief against the defendants. Neither have the defendants ever demanded a jury trial in any of their various answers, motions, or other pleadings."
   The city filed the lawsuit against NAF on August 16, 2000, complaining that an NAF landfill was sitting on top of one of the city's main sewer lines. The city asked that NAF remove material and grant access to the sewer line so that city workers could inspect and maintain it.
   The city says it paid $10,000 for a sewer easement in 1957, then built the 24-inch West End interceptor which served approximately 40 percent of the population at the time the suit was filed. City Manager Charles Stahl said the city was concerned the sewer might be deteriorating or in danger of collapsing from the weight of the landfill.
   In the motion for a change of venue, NAF said the city had been allowed to change its original complaint to include recovery of expenses from the new sewer line the city built to bypass the old one. However, the city said it spent $1,102,745 for the new bypass and that additional interest and debt from the new line is expected to cost $328,841.24 over a 20-year period at the current interest rate of 2.8 percent.
   The Carter County residents claimed in their request for a change of venue that they have a personal stake in the outcome of the case because taxes will rise if the costs of the new sewer line aren't turned over to NAF. "The importance of taxes and the amount in controversy lead me to conclude that it will not be possible to find a jury panel in Carter County able to put aside entirely the effect of their decision on their interests and those of their friends and neighbors," they said.