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Company building gas pipeline gets easement

A company constructing a 600-mile natural gas pipeline was awarded an easement after the property owner failed to respond to the complaint in condemnation. The defaulting party was awarded $602.17 in compensation based on the condemnor’s expert opinion.

Background

This case arises from Atlantic’s lawful exercise of its eminent domain powers under Section 7(h) of the Natural Gas Act. On Dec. 15, 2017, Atlantic filed its complaint in condemnation to acquire certain easements in this matter. Atlantic later served the defendants named in this case through publication.

On April 29, 2019, the clerk of the court entered default against all the defendants who have failed to respond. Atlantic filed its motion for default judgment against the nonresponding defendants May 22, 2019.

Analysis

Atlantic is in the process of constructing an approximately 600-mile underground pipeline and related facilities for the purpose of transporting natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina, known as the ACP project. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission certificate issued to Atlantic empowers Atlantic to exercise the right of eminent domain, which includes the power to condemn any land, including the easements, which is necessary for the construction of the ACP project.

Defendants own real property located in Buckingham County. Atlantic performed a reasonably diligent search of the records associated with the property and has been unable to determine the identities of these defendant landowners, and therefore has been unable to acquire by contract the condemned easement rights.

Atlantic represents that there are two landowners who have already settled with Atlantic for the property. The remaining, active defendants in this case are unknown heirs who collectively have a roughly 16.67% ownership interest. Atlantic has been unable to determine the identities of the defendant landowners and therefore was unable to acquire by contract the necessary easements to construct, operate and maintain a pipeline for the transportation of natural gas.

The nonresponding defendants have failed to file an answer or response in the time period required pursuant to Rule 12(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. As a result, the clerk of the court entered default for the nonresponding defendants April 29, 2019. Atlantic is accordingly entitled to an order confirming its right to condemn the nonresponding defendants’ property pursuant to the authority conferred by 15 U.S.C. § 717f(h), and it is entitled to default judgment against the nonresponding defendants.

The only issue remaining for the court is the just compensation that is owed to the remaining, nonresponding defendants. Atlantic offered evidence about the property discussed above and the areas of the take from each individual property and the rights for the easements that Atlantic seeks to condemn.

The landowners have the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, the amount of just compensation owed for the easements condemned by Atlantic. If the condemnor is the only party to admit evidence to the court of the value of the real property taken, the court is able to use that evidence to determine the just compensation of the property and enter default judgment against defendant landowners and award the defendants their just compensation as determined by the condemnor.

Here, Atlantic offered evidence to the court as to the value of the easements condemned through its valuation expert, Corey Sell, and the appraisal that Mr. Sell prepared for the subject property. The appraisal for the subject property and the testimony of Mr. Sell are proper evidence for the determination of just compensation for the subject property. Based on the testimony and appraisals of Mr. Sell, the total just compensation due to the defendants in this matter is $602.17.

Atlantic’s motion for default judgment granted.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC v. 2.58 Acres, More or Less, in Buckingham County, Virginia, Case No. 17-cv-00089, Jan. 21, 2020. WDVA at Lynchburg (Moon). VLW 020-3-038. 12 pp.