NEWS: Legal News You Can Use – June 1, 2015

Lawsuits allege that migrant workers were exploited; Appeals Court blocks Bluegrass Pipeline eminent domain

Not much this week.  Here are two stories.

Lawsuits allege that migrant workers were exploited federal lawsuits allege that between 2013 and this year 39 workers from Mexico were paid substandard wages, lived in squalid housing, and some were threatened with jail or deportation if they complained. Some workers, the lawsuits claim, lived as virtual prisoners after employers confiscated their passports.

Calling such practices “forced labor” tantamount to human trafficking, the Nashville-based Southern Migrant Legal Services, a legal aid group, filed three lawsuits Thursday against five Kentucky tobacco farms in Scott, Monroe and Nicholas counties, alleging such practices violate federal law governing the program for guest farm workers known as H-2A.

One lawsuit also names a Lexington law group, Conley-Morgan, as a defendant and alleges a lawyer at the firm who handled government paperwork for one of the farms was involved in the scheme to misrepresent working conditions and coerce workers into staying.

The lawsuits name as plaintiffs McKenzie Farms in Stamping Ground and managers, Gene McKenzie and Austin McKenzie in Scott County as well as the farm’s Lexington lawyer; Tracy Dillard of Fountain Run who operates a farm in Monroe County; and three Nicholas County farms, Planck Farms and B.S. Land and Cattle Co., operated by Earl Lee Planck Jr. and High Point Farms LLC, operated by John D. Watkins.

Appeals Court blocks Bluegrass Pipeline eminent domain

A Kentucky appeals court has upheld a ruling that prevents the developers of the Bluegrass Pipeline from using the power of eminent domain to purchase property easements.

And the Louisville attorney who has been representing a group of Kentucky landowners fighting Bluegrass said the ruling is broad enough to apply to another controversial pipeline that seeks to carry hazardous natural gas liquids through Kentucky from fracking zones in Ohio and Pennsylvania to the Gulf Coast. That’s the proposed re-purposing of Kinder Morgan’s existing Tennessee Gas pipeline.

These companies, including Oklahoma-based Williams company, the Bluegrass Pipeline developer, “will have to deal with landowners on a willing seller, willing buyer basis,” said the attorney, Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council.