Friday, October 2, 2015

U.S. District Court in Virginia Addresses Property Rights Claims over Survey Dispute for Natural Gas Pipeline Project

On September 30, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia upheld the constitutionality of a state law allowing natural gas companies to enter private owners’ property without their permission in order to perform a land survey.
In June 2014, landowners in Nelson County received a notice of intent to enter property from Dominion Transmission, Inc. to conduct surveys for a proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. The proposed pipeline would transport natural gas through Nelson County.
In September 2014, the landowners filed a lawsuit against Dominion Transmission, Inc., alleging that Virginia Code § 56-49.01, “‘both on its face and as applied,’ violates the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions, and is therefore void and unenforceable.” The landowners argued that the state law deprives them of their property rights to exclude others. One month later, Dominion Transmission, Inc., filed a motion to dismiss landowners’ complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
The U.S District Court granted a motion to dismiss filed by Dominion Transmission, Inc. concluding that landowners do not have a constitutionally protected property right to exclude in this case. The District Court reasoned that “[w]hile the plaintiffs certainly have an interest in excluding others from their properties, that interest is outweighed by the interest the Commonwealth has in facilitating the supply of natural gas.”
Information about the case is available at docket no. 3:14-cv-00041.
Written by Chloe Marie - Research Fellow

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