The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to intervene in a lawsuit against a pipeline company that used federal power to confiscate private land but refused to compensate the owner.
The case, however, won’t go away, according to lawyers from the Institute for Justice defending Gary and Michelle Erb.
“Defending property rights is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Robert McNamara, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice.
“Today’s denial is disappointing, but it is only one step in the process. And the Institute for Justice will keep up this fight until we find justice for property owners nationwide who are finding their rights violated by these powerful private companies.”
IJ Attorney Sam Gedge said that in “every other context, the transfer of property and the payment of compensation go hand in hand.”
“Today’s decision leaves in place a process that systematically disadvantages property owners whose land is taken for pipeline construction, and we are committed to seeing that process dismantled,” he said.
“Eminent domain is one of the most significant powers the government has at its disposal,” said IJ President and General Counsel Scott Bullock. “When Congress delegates that power to private companies to use for their own ends, courts must read those delegations narrowly, not broadly. The decision in this case does precisely the opposite. IJ will continue to represent courageous property owners who are ready and willing to stand up to defend their rights, and IJ will make them able to do so.”
The Erbs tell their story:
Their fight developed when the federal government gave Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company permission, via the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to build an Atlantic Sunrise pipeline to carry natural gas through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas.
The private company, under federal authority, told the Erbs it was building its pipeline through their 72-acre tract in Conestoga without compensation.
IJ said the couple had hoped to have their three sons build homes on the land, so they all could enjoy hiking and hunting there.
“The lower courts granted Transco the power to install its pipeline before ever paying the Erbs for the taking, even though that is what Congress demands of these private companies. Now, two years after the pipeline was forced through their property, the Erbs have still not received any compensation from the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company,” IJ said.
The case is one of hundreds of its kind, IJ said, and will have broad impact as more natural gas and other pipelines crisscross the nation.
IJ explained the pipeline, which apparently has a potential blast radius of 900 feet, has been placed only 400 feet from the Erbs’ home. The family now is in the process of moving away.
The law of eminent domain is supposed to work this way: A government or company goes to court, the court sets “just compensation,” and when fulfilled, the company can take possession of the land.
Or it can refuse to pay and not get the land.
“Yet pipeline companies like Transco consistently use a far more drastic power of eminent domain –a power that Congress never granted them — to take immediate possession of a piece of property and then put in their pipeline,” IJ said.
“These companies consistently and predictably abuse this power because the courts are simply rubber-stamping their actions, refusing to force the pipeline companies to operate within the limited powers Congress granted them when it created FERC in the first place.”