Chambers v. MCI Worldcom

In Chambers v. MCI Worldcom, No. 00-C-348-C, slip op. (W. D. Wisc. 2001), the plaintiffs sought certification of a class of all landowners along the Union Pacific railroad right-of-way in Wisconsin who did not consent to the installation of fiber optic cable in the right-of-way by MCI. The court's explanation of the faults with the class definition illustrate the predominance of individual issues: the definition fails to communicate to landowners the objective information they need to determine whether they are within the proposed class. It is not sufficient that a person own land adjacent to the cable side of the right-of-way; that person must establish also that he or she owns the underlying (or superior) interest in the right-of-way where the railroad owns less than fee simple absolute. Moreover, identifying the class members through maps and tax records would demand extensive factual inquiry. Defendants have demonstrated that the process of matching the parcels to the current landowners is multi-stepped and fraught with difficulties. . . . Furthermore, no matter which party bears the burden of proof, the issue of consent to the installation must be determined in order to identify the proper members of the class. The definition requires extensive factual inquiry and therefore, is inadequate. (Id. at 12-13.) In concluding that the class should not be certified, despite being limited to landowners in only one state, the court in Chambers stated it had the same concerns as courts addressing certification of nationwide cases in railroad right-of-way cases: "the determination of property interests is an inherently factual inquiry that requires a careful review of each deed." (Id. at 26-27.)