Update: See settlement story
By BRIAN MULHERIN
Consumers Energy will defend its Lake Winds Energy Park in 51st Circuit Court starting Monday, with four of the 19 defendants who own 11 different parcels getting the first chance at a jury trial. Kim and Nancy VanNortwick and Cary and Karen Shineldecker will have their grievances presented by attorney Craig Horn. Attorneys Richard Wilson and Adam Smith will present Consumers’ defense to a six-person jury to be selected Monday morning.
Judge Richard C. Cooper explained that the defendants will go forth two by two in part because in conferring with a judge who was set to hear a similar case in the Thumb that it seemed to be the most logical way to proceed. Those cases were actually settled before going to court, Cooper said.
On Friday Cooper heard two motions by Consumers to suppress testimony by defense experts in the areas of medicine and property values. Both motions were denied.
In August, Judge Cooper specified that the plaintiffs could not present their medical concerns without expert testimony. Horn submitted Dr. Ramin Rahmani, who specializes in musculo-skeletal and neuro-muscular disease as a medical expert who would testify about the ailments that the plaintiffs claim have been caused by wind turbines.
Wilson said Friday that Rahmani, according to a deposition, had no background in wind turbines and that his understanding of the mechanisms of how the supposed injuries and ailments were caused came from internet research he did since August.
Horn countered that Rahmani does not have wind turbine experience, but he does have experience in injuries caused by industrial noise, including other types of turbines.
Cooper said Rahmani’s testimony would be allowed because it was “a matter of weight” for the jury to decide whether the pain specialist had the necessary expertise to establish that the turbines caused the tinnitus (ringing in ears) and other ailments alleged.
Earlier this month, Cooper had ruled that plaintiffs’ expert James Quinn could not base his property value testimony on sales in a Canadian wind development because the sales were not of a willing buyer-willing seller nature.
Wilson said that Quinn’s revised proposal for his property value estimation would rely on a contract for a sale with contingency for Shineldecker’s house on West Kistler Road. He said Quinn would be presenting information that because Shineldecker’s house is contracted to sell at $139,000, down from a most-recent asking price of $193,000, that the VanNortwicks’ house was also worth about 28 percent less due to wind turbines.
Wilson said that kind of testimony doesn’t fit with property-value formulations traditionally accepted by Michigan courts.
Cooper again sided with the plaintiffs.
“What’s on the table today is the experience of one property owner,” Cooper said. “He’s got a right to say ‘This is what I’ve been asking for it, this is what I’ve been offered. That property owner has a right to say this is where I’m at.”
Cooper said if that’s a 28 percent reduction and the appraiser says that the two houses in Monday’s case are similar, then the jury can hear that information.
“If they want to make an argument his situation is very much like (another property), that’s a matter of argument, not a matter of an improper formula,” Cooper said. “The motion would be denied as to whether this 28 percent could be argued or not. That’s a matter of persuasion as to whether it would carry any weight with the fact finder or not.”
The fact finders in this case, a six-person jury, will be seated on Monday.