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Court order issued in Shipshe West sewer lawsuit

A long-running legal battle between the LaGrange County Regional Utility District and Shipshewana Lake landowners Robert and Dianne Fiedler may be coming to a close.

On November 8, both sides appeared before Judge Randy Coffey, a special judge for LaGrange Circuit Court. The order, published two weeks later on November 22, ruled that the Fiedlers would not face any fines in the case, but did order them to pay a total of $64,511.63 in attorney fees to the district.

The Fiedlers had also faced either $159,900 or $799,500 in fines, depending on if state statute was followed or the district’s ordinance, respectively. However, the court found that “clearly, observably, and without any need to cite any case in support of this position, these fines are excessive.” It referenced the Indiana Constitution, Article 1, Sec. 16, and added, “for this reason also, the Court cannot impose a penalty on this case.”

In the ruling, Judge Coffey noted that “the Respondents (Fiedlers) were not ‘supplied’ or ‘provided’ with any services of any kind until at least after October 31, 2017. Any charges assessed against them prior to that date are therefore improper and illegal.”

The potential fines arose from a total of 1,599 days that passed from the time the district required the Fiedlers to connect to the sewer system, beginning on June 15, 2013. The Fiedlers did connect to the system on October 31, 2017, according to court documents. Prior to that, they had paid $9,978.37 to the district by “imposition of tax liens.” They had also paid a $1,250 connection fee, and $1,000 in pretrial attorney fees.

The district had asked for a total of $75,490 in attorney fees. The judge credited the amounts already paid to the district to the attorney fees to arrive at the total due of $64,511.63.

District Board President Patrick Wiltshire released a statement on Wednesday, stating, “The court's final order concludes over four years of costly litigation; examined all aspects of the project to build the Shipshewana sewer collection system; and found that the district is legally justified in requiring property owners to connect all sewage-producing structures located within 300 feet of the system's collection lines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“While the order will not be formally reviewed and discussed until the December 21 board meeting, we feel its terms are fair and will help replenish needed financial reserves to support future repairs and equipment replacement for the Shipshewana system.”