Two Nebraska widows won the right to buy back their family farmland for one dollar ($1.00) each. The Douglas County, Nebraska District Court rejected technical defenses, and attempts to construe a 1987 contract against the ladies, sisters-in-law, when it ordered Waste Management Co. to deed the farmland, now a landfill producing methane gas, back to the sellers.
In 1987, Domina Law Group’s two clients, now widows, and their then-living husbands contracted to sell their northwest Douglas County land to Waste Management Co., a NYSE company, with the proviso that they would have a legal right to buy back the land for $1.00 each after it ceased to be used a landfill.
The property became the Douglas County Landfill, and for nearly twenty-five (25) years, it served as the major rubbish repository for metropolitan Omaha.
As the landfill moved toward achieving the desired volume, Waste installed, within it, a methane gas trapping system that would retain methane gas, and pipe it to points where it could be moved to some other party and used for fuel.
After the landfill ceased active use, i.e., active receipt of garbage, the two elderly ladies, whose husbands had both expired during the intervening years, sued to get their land back after their tenders of the purchase price, and offers to cooperate with taking title back, failed. The ladies also sued for amounts Waste collected before trial, requesting that all profits from the landfill be set aside to them.
Trial occurred in May 2008 after extensive submissions by the parties on Defendant’s Summary Judgment Motion. In mid-December, the Court announced its rulings in favor of the widows.
The District Court rejected Waste Management’s claims including rejection of the contingent that the land need not be conveyed back.
Defendant Waste Management contended that certain agreements it made limited the Plaintiffs’ right to collect or insist upon recovery of rents. Waste engaged a law professor from the local university to render an opinion. The professor participated in summary judgment motions, and perhaps trial defense tactics, and attempted to persuade the trial court that the rule against perpetuities provides some defense.
The District Court rejected the argument, and concluded that no technical defense based upon the rule against perpetuities, or any other legal standard, prevented recovery. It directed the land be conveyed back to the ladies.
“The principles of law that confronted the trial court, here, are keen property law rules. The rules seldom present themselves in civil litigation. When they do, they can impose many complexities” Dave Domina said. Domina noted that “the trial court painstakingly evaluated the briefs, and relevant factors essential to be considered by a trial judge passing on summary judgment.” “We are pleased with the obvious analytical efforts made by the trial court. Even a losing party must feel like they were given careful consideration in this case,” Domina added.
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