HARRISON COUNTY – In the ongoing struggle with Sunoco Pipeline and their pushing of eminent domain, Carol Teter, last Friday, was granted a stay by the Ohio Supreme Court preventing Sunoco from conducting any work on the Teter property going forward.
The appellate court in Youngstown had recently ruled against Teter upholding Harrison County Common Pleas Judge, T. Shawn Hervey’s decision earlier this year granting Sunoco Pipeline the right to eminent domain therefore allowing pipeline work on Teter’s property.
John Lovejoy, Teter’s partner, expressed via email, excitement at the quick decision, which states: “Upon consideration of appellant’s emergency motion to stay execution of court of appeals’ judgment, it is ordered by the court that the motion is granted. No bond is required to be posted for this stay. Lanzinger (Judith Ann) and French, JJ. (Judith L.), dissent.”
Though, the decision for a stay is only temporary, the major decision is yet to come and could open the floodgates for many other companies, not only for access to the Teter property but also around the fracking world in Ohio with oil and gas companies using the Sunoco decision, if upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court, as precedent to run roughshod through other properties.
The chain reaction may already be in place as thirteen plaintiffs filed a joint lawsuit back in April against Kinder Morgan in an attempt to fight off eminent domain. And the same two attorneys butting heads over Sunoco vs. Teter, are also on opposites sides in the Kinder Morgan case (Gregory Brunton-Sunoco and Nicholas Andersen representing the 13 plaintiffs as well as Teter).
Just last week though, Kinder Morgan suffered a blow when Wood County Common Pleas Judge, Robert Pollex ruled against Kinder Morgan in that territory for use of eminent domain. Kinder Morgan has filed numerous claims on an individual basis where they are spread out over various jurisdictions.
Pollex ruled that the pipeline “is not necessary and not for a public use, and thus the company cannot use eminent domain to force Wood County landowners to give easements on their property,” according to a report in the Toledo Blade.
The plaintiffs fighting Kinder Morgan’s advances are dealing with a pipeline that is to connect in Michigan and continue on into Ontario, Canada as part of the Utopia Pipeline. Sunoco Pipeline is laying pipe as part of the Mariner 2 Pipeline that will stretch from Harrison County all the way to Eastern Pennsylvania and the Markus Hook facility. A preliminary hearing in the Kinder Morgan case is scheduled for Oct. 31st in the Harrison County Court of Common Pleas.
Shawn Bennett, executive vice president for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association (OOGA) called some of these pipeline issues a “misconception” where some in the public may be bunching those issues together. He did disagree with Lovejoy’s sentiments regarding the Sunoco decision that it may open the door for getting “low-balled” in compensation for pipelines going through his property.
“However, this is a federal issue and not a statewide issue,” Bennett said where the issue is raised over inter-state pipelines and not ones that are confined within the state.
Steve A. Davis, a partner in the Lancaster firm, Sitterley, Vandoorvort and Davis Ltd of Lancaster, who has litigated and negotiated numerous right of ways and has kept a close eye on the Kinder Morgan case, said he’s not surprised that these two cases resulted in different decisions.
“It’s not unusual for trial courts to have differing opinions on that,” Davis said regarding the lines that transport Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs).
“It generally comes together if you will, at the court of appeals.” Davis added that he wasn’t aware of those courts in Ohio “historically” ruling that NGL “does not have the power of eminent domain.”
Davis said that it made sense that the Kinder Morgan case was refused eminent domain considering it was to reach into Canada as part of the Utopia pipeline, whereas Sunoco, which was granted its eminent domain argument, had a destination within the eastern United States, hence, serving its own citizens.
“Yea, I think it did,” Davis said referring to Kinder Morgan’s decision connected to its pipeline into Canada. “Ten percent of the Utopia pipeline is being reserved, if you will, for walk-up shippers [so] I wouldn’t be surprised if a court of appeals says that gets them into the common carrier analysis of the good.”
Davis added that he would not be surprised in the numerous similar cases reaching different decisions throughout the multiple counties these cases stretch.
“[I] wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in the future the Ohio Supreme Court settles the argument.”
Attempts to reach out to Sunoco Pipeline for comment went unanswered.