You are being forced to lose land due to eminent domain? The company must pay.
Louisiana landowners who lose property due to eminent domain must be fully compensated, according to the state Constitution. Now a 6-1 ruling from the state Supreme Court, favoring landowners in a dispute over the Bayou Bridge Pipeline being built through their property, says compensation includes footing the bill for the landowners’ attorneys and legal fees. he decision leaves the company that built the pipeline needing to pay more money to cover the legal costs of three landowners who had previously been awarded a total of about $30,000 in damages. The high court’s ruling upholds an earlier decision by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles. The exact amount of additional money will be determined by the trial judge, according to the Supreme Court’s decision. But the ruling is nonetheless significant because it marks the first time that the state’s high court has held that the Constitution permits the awarding of attorney and litigation costs as an element of just compensation to landowners in all eminent domain proceedings. In this case, Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC began building the 163-mile pipeline through a 38-acre wooded parcel in St. Martin Parish without settling up with all affected owners, including Peter Aaslestad. He sued along with two others in 2018 to halt construction, forcing the company into eminent domain proceedings.nola.com
The company did get the land, but they did trespass and violated the owner’s due process. Going to court, the company tried to avoid paying legal fees. They lost.
Aaslestad said he was “elated.” He and his siblings inherited a stake in the property from his mother. Though he lives in Virginia, both of his parents were Louisiana natives, and frequent visits to the state made it feel like a second home. “I don’t think anyone anticipated that [Bayou Bridge Pipeline] would lose the Supreme Court fight because they’ve never been challenged before,” Aaslestad said. “It’s a conservative court in a conservative state, and they made a conservative decision, really, by protecting the rights of landowners and by drawing a line to the Louisiana Constitution in the decision.” Environmental advocates hope the ruling emboldens more landowners to seek legal help when negotiating property rights with a pipeline company that knocks on their door, and to encourage more attorneys to take on these cases. “A lot of folks may not want to take on a case like this because they may not get paid at the end,” said Misha Mitchell, an Atchafalaya Basinkeeper attorney who helped with Aaslestad’s case. “There’s a deficit of pro bono attorneys who do work like this.”
Energy Transfer Partners, the pipelines primary owner, did not comment on the ruling.
In what felt like a battle of David vs. Goliath, Aaslestad said, “It showed that there’s hope for the little guy.” “I don’t think it’s going to stop people from trying to build pipelines and railroad them through private lands,” he continued. “But at least they’ll know that if they’re wrong and if [landowners] fight back, there will be a steeper price for out-of-state companies who aren’t respecting Louisiana law.”
David won this one and now pipeline owners are on record to have to pay. We will see what they do in the future.