Solano County Landowner Prevails in Fraud and Trespass Lawsuit Against EDF Renewable Energy, Inc.
July 31, 2018
The Solano County, CA Superior Court has ruled that energy giant EDF Renewable Energy, Inc. defrauded Solano County landowner DIII Properties, LLC in the negotiation of a 2011 easement agreement allowing EDF to install electrical collection lines on DIII’s property. The Court further held that the fraud resulted in a permanent trespass on the property and that EDF breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. EDF was ordered to compensate DIII for the encroachment and was also required to reimburse attorneys’ fees incurred by DIII during the nearly six-year course of the litigation.
“We entered into an agreement with EDF that we thought was fair and beneficial to both sides,” said Duncan McCormack III, principal of DIII Properties, “and our trust in EDF was ultimately broken. I don’t think you treat people you intend to have a long business relationship with that way, whether you are a small rancher or large corporation.”
Solano County and its prevailing winds have become a focus of renewable energy companies, which have been developing wind turbine projects there since the early 2000s. Mr. McCormack, whose family has been ranching in Solano County for more than 100 years, signed an easement agreement with EDF permitting installation of three collection lines in an approximate 30 foot wide corridor running through the southern portion of the property. Once constructed, the lines would transmit electricity generated by EDF’s Shiloh III Wind Power Project to market.
Several months after construction, EDF proposed a new easement agreement to Mr. McCormack, doubling the width of the corridor and providing no additional compensation. Despite repeated requests, Mr. McCormack was not able to get clear answers from EDF regarding where the high voltage lines were actually installed on the property, and finally a lawsuit was filed to resolve the issue.
After almost six years of legal proceedings, the Court determined that the collection lines were installed substantially outside the agreed upon easement area. The Court also found that EDF engaged in fraud. Before the parties’ execution of the easement agreement, EDF learned that the collection lines were set to be installed outside the specified easement area. EDF did not disclose this information to DIII. Instead, EDF ignored the information and agreed to an easement it knew it was going to exceed.
“In my opinion, this case illustrated some of the best and worst aspects of litigation,” said Downey Brand attorney Adrian Webber, who, with Steve Saxton, represented DIII. “This was a complex and hard-fought case in which EDF denied liability for years. In the end, truth and fairness prevailed.”