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Eight families sue Thurmont for $48 million

James Rada, Jr.
Thurmont Dispatch

(6/5) The eight Thurmont families who sued the town for sewer back-up in their homes in years past have now announced their intent to sue the town for $48 million because the town said it would condemn their homes and pay them fair-market value.

“This is extortion. This is ridiculous,” Thurmont Commissioner Ron Terpko said during the town meeting on May 27.

The couples suing the town are John and Kim Lavigne, Harold and Paula Furr, Ron and Kathy Bishop, Wayne and Tina Brown, Robert and Deborah Massett, Randy and Holly Valentine, Paul and Mariola Matweecha and Robert and Rachel Patrick. Each couple is suing the town for $1 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages resulting from the town’s initiation of condemnation proceedings against the Furrs, Browns and Bishops in December 2007. They also announced their intention to pursue action regarding the other homes as well.

“The threatened condemnation actions are retaliatory and in bad faith…” the letter to the commissioners from New Jersey attorney Alan Albin read in part.

In May 2007, a Frederick County Circuit Court jury awarded the Bishops, Browns, Furrs, Lavignes, Matweechas, Patricks and Valentines nearly $3.5 million for damages resulting from a sewer backup occurring in their homes in 2003. The amount was reduced to $2.6 million in September and is still in appeals.

At the end of September 2007, the Massetts, Bishops and Furrs filed a lawsuit for $6 million against the town for sewer back-ups that occurred in 2004. This case hasn’t been heard in court yet.

With this latest lawsuit, the town is facing $56.6 million in damages that would be split among the eight families.

“In court testimony, they said their properties are worthless,” Burns said.

The condemnation resolutions state, in part, “…the Town of Thurmont has used due diligence and reasonable care in maintaining and repairing its sewer system, but despite these efforts, cannot guarantee that future sewage backups will not occur at the Property and that the Town will now incur monetary damages as a result thereof…”

Between the first two lawsuits and the condemnations, the families stand the possibility of receiving 2.5 times the fair market value of their homes.
“They’re getting justly compensated and then some,” Burns said.

However, the letter from Albin states that the condemnation action has “rendered said real property of claimants unmarketable and destroyed the fair market value of said real property.”

The families are charging the town with slander/disparagement, fraud, negligence, misrepresentation, civil conspiracy, inverse condemnation, denial of due process, malicious use of civil process and unjust enrichment.

Commissioner Glenn Muth said he was surprised that the families who hadn’t even had condemnation proceedings started against them yet were announcing they were going to sue.

“I thought we were trying to do a good thing by helping out those we could at the time and look where that got us,” said Commissioner Robert Lookingbill.

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