Farmers, landowners and businesses step closer to end of river lawsuit

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A massive federal lawsuit involving hundreds of plaintiffs in six states, including Missouri, are a step closer to learning if the government owes them money. Attorney’s for the plaintiffs and government wrapped up four months of presenting both sides before a federal judge, first in Kansas City, then in Washington, DC.

Polsinelli attorney Dan Boulware, who represents the farmers and landowers, says more than 90 witnesses testified, including 44 farmers and landowners who are called “bellweather plaintiffs”, best representing the rest of the plaintiffs in the Mass Action lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in 2014, uses a unique legal theory: that in changing its policy on the flow of the Missouri River, from flood control that invited farming of rich land adjoining the river to protecting environmental concerns, the plaintiffs had their land and livelihood “taken” by river managers under the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As such, they believe the government owes them “just compensation” for numerous floods, including the massive flooding that closed I-29 for miles in 2011.

A judge is hearing the case, not a jury. She has indicated that lawyers should file closing briefs, and closing argument will be set for sometime in November in Kansas City.

She expects to rule on the claims by the end of the year. Though no specific damages are listed, the attorneys for the plaintiffs believe damages could top $300 million.