A judge has ordered Ronnie Barrett to pay nearly a $1 million in damages to a Rutherford County woman following a four-year legal battle over an access road to his manufacturing plant near Buchanan Road.
On Thursday, Judge John D. Wootten Jr., who serves in the 15th Judicial District of Tennessee, awarded Brenda Benz $650,000 in a breach of contract lawsuit involving the sale of 5 acres of land near Miller Lane for an expansion of the Barrett Firearms facilities.
Wootten ruled Barrett did breach a contract with Benz, who sold the land in August 2004 on the condition that she reserve ownership of a 60-foot strip for access to her property that runs along Interstate 24.
As part of the contract, Barrett agreed to pay for an extension of Miller Lane, but he never did.
“When you have a contract and refuse to live up to the terms, you have to be punished,” Benz said, adding she feels vindicated – yet relieved – that the court battle seems to be coming to a close.
“I am very pleased with the ruling,” she said.
Barrett will also have to pay 10 percent interest for the two years that the case has been on appeal, bringing the total settlement amount to $780,000.
Barrett was unavailable for comment about the ruling, as well as whether he will appeal the settlement.
“He was found guilty two years ago, but the Tennessee Court of Appeals ordered the Circuit Court (judge) to hear how the recent road changes would affect the settlement,” Benz said, in reference to the value of her property.
Barrett appealed the decision, arguing a project to complete Miller Lane by the Tennessee Department of Transportation should negate any settlement.
Even though the state is in the midst of completing a permanent access road on Epps Mill Road, Wootten ruled Barrett still breached the contract because it connects at a different location than what was agreed upon as part of the original sale.
“The reason this all started was because (Barrett) realized that he could not connect the new plant with the old building under Rutherford County zoning regulations, which is why he has fought so hard for the state to pay for the road,” Benz said, in reference to where Miller Lane was initially supposed to be extended.
Benz filed the lawsuit after Barrett completed the $4.5 million plant expansion but was unable to convince TDOT officials to move a fence adjacent to I-24 to extend the portion of Miller Lane that was outlined in the contract.
The lawsuit is just one of several involving Barrett Firearms – years of litigation that stem from a now defunct $40 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to produce rifles for the military.
In 2010, Barrett lost a lawsuit against the Rutherford County Commission and TDOT, alleging that refusals to allow the road extension to move forward had cost the company the contract, as well as others.
During that same time, his wife, former state Rep. Donna Rowland Barrett, failed to gain support in the Tennessee General Assembly for a bill that would have required TDOT to approve the extension.
In 2011, however, she was able to convince TDOT officials to complete the project, which is now underway at the expense of taxpayers.
Although the TDOT project includes a permanent access road that will run along her property, Benz said she filed the lawsuit as a matter of principal.
“Yes, I now have a nice road and sewer on my property, but it still not in the right place,” she said. “He was supposed to pay for the road, as he agreed to do in the contract. Instead, taxpayers have paid for everything because he pulled the right political strings. He has not spent one penny on this extension, which in my opinion, is just plain wrong.”