By Adelle Whitefoot
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of a two-part series regarding motions made by Lake County and Rohl Networks at a hearing Monday, Dec. 18. Check next week’s News-Chronicle for part two.
Lake County argued for a motion for a new trial Monday, Dec. 18, in a lawsuit with Rohl Networks, LP for unpaid work and materials related to the county’s broadband project.On Nov. 3, a jury of eight ruled in favor of Rohl, of Jupiter, Fla., awarding the company more than $2.08 million. Rohl was the main contractor during the construction of the broadband network, Lake Connections, from 2012 to 2015.The jury had to answer five questions in its deliberations, but Lake County is only contesting the verdicts for questions one, two and four:
- (1) Under contracts 1, 2A and 2B, taking into account any credit for owner-furnished materials (OFM), what amount was earned by Rohl Networks?
- (2) Under contract 1, 2A and 2B, what amount was paid to Rohl Networks?
- (4) What amount, if any, is owed to Rohl Networks for labor and/or materials supplied outside of contracts 1, 2A and 2B?
According to Lake County’s memorandum in support of the motion for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial, “the jury was confused and made mistakes.”
The county’s position
The jury found in November, after a five-day trial, that Rohl earned more than $25 million under the three contracts — Phase 1, Phase 2A and Phase 2B — and found that the county paid Rohl more than $22.8 to date. Therefore, the county owed Rohl nearly $2.3 million under the three contracts, but Rohl owed the county $223,961 for OFM not installed or returned to Lake County. The numbers for questions one and two seemed to total all of Rohl’s invoices for the project.
The county argued that some of the invoices included work outside of the contract and the jury decided to “lump” everything together.
“The court needs to decide if it is going to allow the jury to lump everything together, contrary to the instruction, which were clear in the verdict questions,” said Jonathan Bye, an attorney for Lake County.
Judge Michael Cuzzo asked Bye if the jury was justified in “lumping” everything together because Rohl is arguing the contract has a provision that allows for additional work to be done outside the contract.Bye said the county’s position is no because materials Rohl purchased and then never used on the project is not addressed in the contract.
The county also argued that not all of the invoices provided credit for OFM. Bye pointed to testimony by Janell Gibble, a project manager from Compass Consultants Inc. saying she was the only one to testify as to OFM credits. Compass was the hired engineer on the project.
The county believes that the answer to question one should have been about $22.47 million because “the jury’s answer to question one is not only contrary to the preponderance of evidence, it is contrary to the uncontradicted evidence,” the memorandum said.
It also believes the answer to question two should be about $22.5 million. During the trial, Bye stated in closing arguments the answer to question four should be $626,459 instead of zero.
By the county estimates, with these changes, it would only owe $339,052.
Nathan Seller, an attorney for Rohl, said they believe the verdict handed down by the jury is “reasonable and logical.
“When Rohl purchased material for the project the county paid Rohl 80 percent of the purchase price and held 20 percent as retainage, so Sellers argues that it doesn’t matter if the materials were installed or not, the county owns it.Rohl also disputes that Gibble was the only one to testify on whether or not invoices credited for OFM. Sellers pointed to testimony by former Rohl CEO David Marinelli where Sellers had him compare line items on invoices where it showed the material costs were lower than the price laid out in the contracts.
According to Minnesota Statute 546.27, a judge has 90 days after a submission of the motion to file a decision with the court administrator.
The motion for a new trial was filed Dec. 4.