Survey company legal dispute settles after week long trial
A bitterly contested legal fight between Park Rapids' two land surveying companies was settled Friday following a week long trial in Hubbard County.
The former Arro of Park Rapids, now Land Design Consultants, sued Lindow Surveying & Mapping, LLC, for $165,000 for alleged theft of trade secrets.
"You know, I can't really talk about it," owner Kevin Lindow said of the confidential settlement.
Lindow and his employee Tom Miller were sued when they defected from Arro in 2010 to start a new business. Miller had been Arro's office manager. Lindow had been Arro's survey crew chief. Lindow started his business in early 2010 and Miller joined him two months later.
Arro personnel admitted in trial they were incensed at the defections because they were struggling financially and didn't want to deal with new competition. The resignations had almost put them out of business, they acknowledged. But they denied they had conspired to drive Lindow out of business.
Arro had also paid a portion of Kevin Lindow's education to become a Professional Land Surveyor.
Uncontroverted testimony indicated Miller took a copy of a hard drive of Arro's records with him in the spring of 2010 when he left, which was the basis of the lawsuit and of criminal charges still pending against Miller. That case is on the docket for next month.
Last week Miller testified that he didn't trust Arro management in case of a lawsuit, so he took the hard drive containing 2,000 surveys with him as a legal defense.
As a 20-year employee of the survey business Arro purchased in 2007, Miller had certified 99 percent of the surveys, he testified. Survey cases have a 12-year statute of limitations. Miller testified he couldn't trust the company he and Lindow left to protect him legally in the event of a boundary line or other legal dispute, if one were to arise in the future.
Hubbard County investigator Colter Diekmann testified that when officers executed a search warrant in late May 2010, they found the hard drive connected to Miller's computer at Lindow's business. But Diekmann testified none of the data had been transferred to Lindow computers.
Arro contended Miller took confidential information to give Lindow's newly established business a competitive jump-start in bidding jobs.
Miller and Lindow testified they never used any of the non-public data on the disc. If they had, Lindow Surveying might have assumed the liabilities of a mistake.
Lindow had also invested $82,000 in higher tech equipment called Virtual Reference System, which ties into a cell phone data link.
No one else locally has the technology, which could potentially allow Lindow to undercut most competitors in certain bids, testimony indicated.
A parade of witnesses took the stand to attest to Miller's sterling reputation as the best surveyor in the region. And because he had mentored Lindow, both had garnered a stellar reputation, witnesses testified. One even said he paid extra to have Lindow re-do a survey the men had formerly performed while at Arro because he thought the additional cost was worth it.
Lindow and Miller still face ethics charges before the state board that regulates surveyors' conduct. That case was put on hold pending a resolution in the civil trial. Arro officials admitted they had submitted some erroneous information as the basis of the complaint, and planned on amending that grievance once trial was over.
The case featured books full of expensive exhibits that were compiled by both sides.
The criminal case is scheduled for the February docket.