Supreme Court Drops Case In Local Pipeline Dispute

 

By JD LONG

jim@harrisonnewsherald.com

HARRISON COUNTY – The long and winding road of Sunoco vs Teter was as long and tricky as the pipelines in the ground that reach from here to the Delaware border. And now it’s over—for now.

Sunoco Pipeline argued that since they had already re-routed their pipeline around Carol A. Teter’s Harrison County property that the case was moot and the Supreme Court agreed to dismiss. It was not a decision Teter or her partner, John Lovejoy agreed with or wanted but since that time of disappointment was handed down, some cracks of light have shown through in their outlook.

“We knew last spring that we won the heart of our case, which was to have them reroute the pipeline around our farm, and not bother us in the future,” Lovejoy said speaking for his partner, Carol Teter. “We could have walked away then, but since we had a solid case with expert witness testimony, a brilliant attorney in Nick Andersen (law firm of Arenstein and Andersen), and the Harrison County Farm Bureau and the Ohio Farm Bureau working with us, we decided to try to win it for all property owners in Ohio.”

On July 24th of this year Sunoco filed their motion of “mootness” and to dismiss the existing case since they had successfully re-routed around the Teter property. Teter responded in a brief arguing against the case being “moot” and against dismissal stating that, “Teter has always suspected that Sunoco would not follow through with its contractual obligations in the confidential settlement agreement.”

“When Sunoco filed its Suggestion of Mootness and Motion to Dismiss without mentioning the settlement agreement, Teter became even more concerned about

Sunoco’s motives with regards to the terms of the settlement agreement,” Teter’s brief states.

That “settlement agreement” included a payment ($200,000) to Teter with concessions including giving up rights to the Teter property for 30 years among other things.

Andersen stated that the 30-year agreement had to do with the basic fact that Teter and Lovejoy did not want to be bothered in their lifetimes, hence, the 30 years.

On August 15th Sunoco filed a response to Teter’s argument against dismissal stating that some sections of the Teter brief contained “misleading statements.”

Sunoco argued that Teter included the words “legal owner” regarding easements on Teter’s property but Sunoco stated that they are not and pointed out that the court only gave Sunoco the “’right’ to appropriate easements,” according to the August motion.

“Teter and Sunoco executed a settlement agreement resolving all disputes between them relating to this matter (“Settlement Agreement.”),” Sunoco’s motion states. It continued by stating that Sunoco has no interest in the Teter property by relinquishing “all right, title and interest in the Teter property.”

Sunoco felt that Teter’s contention that Suncoco could take possession of easements and build another pipeline was misleading. In other words Sunoco argued that Teter was wording their brief as if “Sunoco could build a pipeline on Teter’s property tomorrow.” But in later wording Sunoco admits as “technically accurate” to Teter’s claim that there is nothing preventing Sunoco from paying Teter compensation and building a pipeline on their property.

What Sunoco stated in their motion to dismiss is that easements are “nothing more than unenforceable pieces of paper” and remind the court that no compensation was paid or that easements were signed and recorded.

“And none of these things can ever (emphasis) occur because Sunoco has waived away any interest in the Teter property through the parties ‘Settlement Agreement,’” according to Sunoco’s motion.

According to the Supreme Court’s decision, though, along with dismissing the case also found Sunoco’s claim against Teter’s statements in their brief “is denied as moot,” thereby striking down Sunoco’s argument.

The “Settlement Agreement” as part of their case, was the result of a dispute “over a discharge of drilling-mud seeping onto the Teter property that occurred as a result of drilling activities on a neighboring property.” The agreement was executed on May 3rd of this year.

“Waging this legal battle put a hole in our savings,” Lovejoy later added. “Thanks to Nick (Andersen) negotiating this agreement, the hole is much smaller.”

The Ohio Farm Bureau (OFB) also filed a brief on behalf of their members and Teter-Lovejoy. But just what the OFB and Teter wanted, the case to be heard before the Ohio Supreme Court, won’t happen thereby, leaving the issue of whether a “finished natural gas” can flow through pipelines via eminent domain unclear, as the OFB stated in their Buckeye Farm News (BFN) dated November-December, 2017.

“We wanted the court to consider how eminent domain power should be used when a private company is going to lay a pipeline to transport products like butane or ethane for private use–to an industrial complex, for example–and not delivering gas into people’s homes,” OFB Policy Counsel, Leah Curtis as quoted in the BFN article.

Andersen admits that this issue of eminent domain and what can be construed, as petroleum is not over.

“This will come up again,” he said. Lovejoy agreed stating that he and Teter felt they had to fight for the right to say no.

“While we didn’t get the ruling, it looks like the effect was almost as good. Natural gas liquid pipelines right-of-ways will have to be negotiated fairly with landowners,” Lovejoy explained. “While we wanted a final decision on our case, the fact that the Ohio Supreme Court took our case and stopped construction on our property created enough uncertainty that it’s very unlikely any pipeline company would try to use the Seventh District’s wrongheaded opinion to use eminent domain.”

Andersen agreed but sends a warning to landowners in case they are approached as Teter was.

“Ohio landowners should certainly be aware that this controversy exists and contact experienced legal counsel if they are approached for this type of pipeline,” Andersen said but included the promising fact that the Supreme Court did hear Teter’s appeal adding that there is “some question as to the validity of taking private land to build NGL pipelines.”

 
 
 

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