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Frequently Asked Questions

What is this lawsuit about?

Answer:

Beginning in the 1980s, the Defendants or their predecessors buried fiber-optic cable and installed related telecommunications equipment within railroad rights of way across the United States.  Defendants did so with the consent of the railroads. The Plaintiffs claim that the Defendants were also required to get consent from adjoining landowners before installing Telecommunications Facilities (such as fiber-optic, copper, or coaxial cables for the transmission of voice or data) in the railroad rights of way.
Railroads have differing levels of property rights in connection with the rights of way.  The issue in this litigation is whether the railroads have enough rights to permit the Defendants to put Telecommunications Facilities in the rights of way without getting permission from owners of land next to or under the rights of way.
The Defendants claim the railroads had the right to allow them to install Telecommunications Facilities without the need for further permission from landowners.  The Defendants deny they did anything wrong.

What is the status of the previous settlement?

Answer:

You may recall seeing an earlier notice in August and September 2008 about a settlement in Kingsborough v. Sprint Communications that involved the same claims as this case.  The Kingsborough court decided it did not have the power to decide whether that settlement should be approved.  The parties then negotiated this new settlement.

Why is this a class action?

Answer:

In a class action, one or more people, called class representatives, sue on behalf of people who have similar claims.  A judge can determine that people who have similar claims are members of a class, except for those who exclude themselves from the class.  U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul W. Greene in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama is in charge of this class action.

Why is there a Settlement?

Answer:

There has been no trial.  Instead, the Plaintiffs and the Defendants agreed to settle to avoid the costs and risks of trial.  The Settlement provides the opportunity for payment to Class Members.  In exchange, under the Settlement, Class Members give the Defendants an Easement in the railroad right of way.  An easement permits a person to use property for a stated purpose.  The Easement given through the Settlement will be for Telecommunications Facilities and is described more fully in the question describing Easements below.

How do I know if I am part of the Settlement?

Answer:

You are a member of the Class if you own or co-own (or formerly owned or co-owned) land in the following Counties: Autauga, Baldwin, Butler, Chambers, Chilton, Conecuh, Elmore, Escambia, Jackson, Jefferson, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Mobile, Montgomery, and Shelby that is next to or under a railroad right of way where Telecommunications Facilities have been installed by Sprint, Qwest, or WilTel.  This land is referred to as “Covered Property.”

Are there exceptions to being included?

Answer:

You are not a Class Member if you are:

• A national, state, or local governmental entity,

• A railroad or a railroad-affiliated entity, or

• A Native American nation or tribe.

If you excluded yourself from the Settlement you are also not included in the Class.

How do I determine if I’m in the Class?

Answer:

If you received this notice in the mail without requesting it, land records show you may be affected by this case.  You can go to the Parcel Information page of this website to see the description of the rights of way that are included in the Settlement.  If you are still not sure if you are in the Class, you can call 1-866-458-3181 to see if your property is included in the Settlement.

What should I do if I move or sell my property?

Answer:

In order to receive additional important notices, you must call the Claims Administrator at 1-866-458-3181 and give your new address. 

What does the Settlement provide?

Answer:

A Settlement Agreement, available at the Settlement Agreement page of this website, describes the details about the Settlement.  Generally, the Settlement will pay valid claims from Class Members.  Also, as a result of the Settlement, the Defendants’ easements will include the right to install and use Telecommunications Facilities, as described in Section IV on page 17 of the Settlement Agreement.

What can I get from the Settlement?

Answer:

The Settlement will provide cash payments to those who qualify.  The amount of your payment will be based on the length of fiber-optic cable on your property, according to the formulas below.  You do not need to know how to use these formulas.  Your payment will be determined for you at a later date.  This information is provided to you to help you understand the potential value of the Settlement.
Your payment will depend on a number of factors, including:

• How many feet of property you own next to the railroad right of way,

• How long you owned the property,

• How the railroad got its property rights, and

• How many people co-own the property with you.

BENEFIT LEVELS—PAYMENT FORMULAS

There are three different formulas.  In calculating your benefit, it is important to know whether your property is in a Land Grant Corridor.  If you received this notice in the mail, without requesting it, you can find this information on the front of the envelope.  You can also go to the Parcel Information page to see whether your property is in a Land Grant Corridor.  If you are still not sure, you can call 1-866-458-3181.
 

State Benefits – If your property is included in the Settlement but is not located in a Land Grant Corridor, you are eligible to receive State Benefits.

• If you owned the property for the entire Compensation Period, your payment would be $0.97 per foot.
 

Pre-1875 Land Grant Non-Section Benefits – If your property is in a Pre-1875 Settlement Non-Section Corridor, you have two benefit options:

• Pre-1875 Land Grant Non-Section – If you owned the property for the entire Compensation Period, your payment would be $0.26 per foot.

• State Benefits – You can try and get a larger payment if you can prove that an earlier owner of your property obtained rights to it before the railroad got its right to use the property for railroad purposes.  If you owned the property for the entire Compensation Period, your payment would be $0.97 per foot.
 

Pre-1875 Federal Land Grant Section Benefits - If your property is in a Pre-1875 Settlement Section Corridor, you have two benefit options:

• Pre-1875 Land Grant Section – If you owned the property for the entire Compensation Period, your payment would be $0.13 per foot.

• State Benefits – You can try and get a larger payment if you can show that an earlier owner of your property obtained rights to it before the railroad got its right to use the property for railroad purposes.  If you owned the property for the entire Compensation Period, your payment would be $0.97 per foot.

Why are there different benefit levels?

Answer:

Over time, railroads acquired land in different ways.  How broad a railroad’s property rights are depends on how it got the land for its tracks and when it got the rights.  The broader the railroad’s property rights, the less likely it is that the Defendant telecommunications company needed permission from adjoining landowners to install its fiber-optic cable.
In the Settlement, the Defendants pay landowners different amounts depending on how and when the railroad got its property rights because these factors affect how broad or narrow the railroad’s rights are.

What if I did not own my property for the entire time?

Answer:

In some instances, a property has current and former owners.  Your payment would be based on the proportionate period of your ownership during the Compensation Period.  The start of the Compensation Period varies.  You can find the start of the Compensation Period for the right of way next to your property at Parcel Information page.
The Compensation Period ends February 16, 2012.  See the Settlement Agreement at the Settlement Agreement page for more details.

What if I inherited my property?

Answer:

If you inherited your property, along with any property-based claims that were owned by your deceased relative, you will be able to count any period of ownership by your deceased relative.  For example, if you owned the property for 12 months and your relative owned the property for 24 months during the Compensation Period, your payment will be based on 36 months.  Please note you will need to provide the Claims Administrator with a personal representative’s deed or beneficiary’s deed showing you acquired your property by inheritance.  You will also need to provide a deed or certificate of title that reflects your relative’s acquisition of the property.

What if there are multiple owners of my property?

Answer:

If you filed a valid claim, the Claims Administrator will write a single check payable to all co-owners of the property.  The check will be mailed in care of the person to whom this notice was mailed.

What am I giving up to stay in the Class?

Answer:

Unless you excluded yourself from the Settlement, you can’t sue, continue to sue, or be part of any other lawsuit against the Defendants or the railroads to obtain any recovery as a result of a Defendant putting fiber-optic cable in the right of way next to your property.  It also means that all of the Court’s decisions will bind you.  In addition, if you are a current landowner, as a condition of payment, you will be required to submit a signed Easement.

What is the Easement?

Answer:

The lawsuit is about whether Defendants received from the railroads sufficient rights to use the railroad right of way next to your property for Telecommunications Facilities.  That issue has not been resolved.  The Easement will grant any rights the Defendants don’t already have to use the right of way for Telecommunications Facilities.  It will be granted to the Defendants that have already placed Telecommunications Facilities in the applicable right of way.  The right of way usually extends a significant distance on either side of the railroad tracks.  The Easement will:
 

• Cover a portion of the right of way adjoining your property, encompassing where the existing Telecommunications Facilities are buried or located;

• Allow the Defendants, if they don’t already have the right to do so, to maintain, operate, repair, and relocate existing Telecommunications Facilities and to install additional Telecommunications Facilities within the Easement area;

• Allow the Defendants access to the right of way by using existing private roads when access from public or railroad roads or the adjoining right of way is not practical;

• Not allow the Defendants to add or substantially expand buildings on the right of way; and

• Not allow the Defendants to add microwave or cell towers.

You can read and download the Easement Deed at the Other Claim Documents page or call 1-866-458-3181 to request a copy.  You should not sign the Easement Deed now.  Instead, the Easement Deed forms will be distributed to Class Members after a valid claim is made.

Note:  If you are a current landowner and did not exclude yourself from the Settlement, you will automatically grant an Easement in the railroad right of way next to your land.  The Court will authorize the Claims Administrator to sign an Easement Deed on your behalf if you do not sign the Easement Deed.

When will I get my payment?

Answer:

The Claims Administrator is reviewing completed claims to validate which ones qualify for payment. If a claim is qualified, the Claims Administrator will send a Release of Claims to you as well as an Easement Deed to current landowners.

What if I disagree with the amount of my payment?

Answer:

There is a process in the Settlement to resolve disagreements over whether you are eligible or the amount of your payment.  If you file a claim, you will get further details in the letter you receive about your eligibility.  You have the right to ask the Claims Administrator to reconsider the decision on your claim.  Please review the letter carefully when you receive it because there are specific time limitations regarding the reconsideration process.  More details are available in the Settlement Agreement, which is available at the Settlement Agreement page.

If I didn’t exclude myself, can I sue the Defendants for the same thing later?

Answer:

No. Unless you excluded yourself, you gave up the right to sue the Defendants or the railroads for the claims that the Settlement resolves.

If I excluded myself from the Settlement, can I still get a payment?

Answer:

No. You will not get any money if you excluded yourself from the Settlement.

Do I have a lawyer in the case?

Answer:

Yes.  The Court has appointed the lawyers and firms listed below as “Class Counsel,” meaning that they were appointed to represent you and all Class Members:

Scott A. Powell
Don McKenna
HARE, WYNN, NEWELL & NEWTON
The Massey Building, Suite 800
2025 Third Avenue North
Birmingham, AL 35203  

John C. Sullivan
SULLIVAN & SULLIVAN
5548 I-55 North, Suite 200
Jackson, MS 39211

Nels Ackerson
ACKERSON KAUFFMAN FEX, P.C.
1701 K Street, NW, Suite 1050
Washington, DC 20006 

Henry J. Price
PRICE, WAICUKAUSKI & RILEY, LLC
301 Massachusetts Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Kathleen C. Kauffman
ACKERSON KAUFFMAN FEX, P.C.
1701 K Street, NW, Suite 1050
Washington, DC 20006 

Dan Millea
ZELLE, HOFMANN, VOELBEL, MASON LLP
500 Washington Avenue South, Suite 4000
Minneapolis, MN 55415

Irwin B. Levin
COHEN & MALAD, LLP
One Indiana Square, Suite 1400
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Andrew W.  Cohen
KOONZ, MCKENNEY, JOHNSON,
DEPAOLIS & LIGHTFOOT, L.L.P.
2001 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Suite 450
Washington, DC 20006

Scott D. Gilchrist
COHEN & MALAD, LLP
One Indiana Square, Suite 1400
Indianapolis, IN 46204

William T. Gotfryd
Of Counsel
SUSMAN, HEFFNER & HURST, LLP
Two First National Plaza
20 South Clark Street, Suite 600
Chicago, IL  60603 

Arthur T. Susman
SUSMAN, HEFFNER & HURST, LLP
Two First National Plaza
20 South Clark Street, Suite 600
Chicago, IL  60603

You will not be charged for these lawyers.  If you want to be represented by your own lawyer, you may hire one at your own expense.

How will the lawyers be paid?

Answer:

The Court has awarded settlement Class Counsel $730,000 for attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses. The Court also awarded compensation to each of the Class Representatives who helped the lawyers on behalf of the whole Class. The applicable court orders can be found on the Settlement Agreement and Court Documents page of this website. Defendants will separately pay these fees and expenses and the payment will not reduce the benefits available for the Class.

How do I get more information?

Answer:

You can visit the pages of this website, where you will find answers to common questions about the Settlement and other information to help you determine whether you are a Class Member and whether you are eligible for a payment.  If you still have questions, you can call 1-866-458-3181 toll-free or write to AL Fiber-Optic Cable Litigation, P.O. Box 2487, Faribault, MN 55021-9187.

Disclaimer

Please do not contact  Sprint, Qwest, WilTel Communications or the Court about this Settlement. Any and all callers will be directed to this website. If you have questions, please refer to the information posted here.  If you are unable to find an answer to your question using the information posted here, you can call the claims administrator at 1-866-458-3181.

This site is not operated by Sprint, Qwest or WilTel Communications. This class action settlement is supervised by the Court and is administered by a claims administration firm that handles all aspects of claims processing.

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