New Findings: Pipeline Companies Flout Law Nationwide, Take Land Without First Paying Property Owners

John Kramer
John Kramer · April 8, 2019

Case Appealed to U.S. Supreme Court Seeks to End this Abuse of Eminent Domain

Arlington, Va.—In hundreds of documented examples from across the nation, powerful pipeline companies have convinced the courts to ignore the law and give these private companies other people’s land without first paying the owners any compensation, as required under federal law.

“We documented more than 200 eminent domain decisions where federal courts granted pipeline companies immediate possession of land, allowing these companies to take property now, put in their pipelines and pay later, even though Congress never granted these companies that authority,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Robert McNamara. The Institute for Justice recently filed an appeal in such a case with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to end this practice and require the pipeline companies and the lower courts to follow the laws established by Congress. “These 200-plus examples represent just the tip of the iceberg. In the past five years alone, property owners in at least 18 states have had their land taken away by preliminary injunctions, which short-circuits the eminent domain process and results in owners losing their land today but receiving compensation only months or years in the future.”

McNamara documented examples in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

“And we know for certain that these states are not alone,” he said. “There have been preliminary injunctions in similar cases in Kansas and Nevada, and probably other places, outside the five-year window we examined. The fact that so many abuses are so easily documentable should disturb anyone who cares about the rule of law. If Congress never gave these private pipeline companies the power to take people’s property first and pay later, the courts have no authority to do this, yet that is exactly what is going on nationwide. The U.S. Supreme Court needs to set this right.”

“In Pennsylvania alone, where our U.S. Supreme Court appeal arose, we documented 38 quick-take injunctions granted for pipelines in the past five years,” McNamara said. “A frequent abuser of this practice was the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company (Transco), which took our clients’ property almost two years ago and has never paid them a red cent for their land.”

Gary and Michelle Erb, the Institute for Justice’s clients, purchased 72 acres in Conestoga, Pennsylvania, and built their dream home there. Their hope was to have their three sons build homes on the land, too. But the Erbs’ dream was destroyed when Transco built a natural gas pipeline running through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas. The Erbs tell their story in this brief video:

The Institute for Justice has spent decades fighting eminent domain abuse nationwide. IJ’s victories have saved homes and businesses, including: the home of an elderly widow from Atlantic City who successfully fought then-developer Donald Trump’s abuse of eminent domain; an Atlantic City piano tuner’s home; a small auto repair shop in Mesa, Arizona; 17 homes and business in Lakewood, Ohio; and a boxing gym for inner city youth in National City, California, among other examples.

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[NOTETo arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call John Kramer, IJ’s vice president for communications, at (703) 682-9320 ext. 205. More information on the case is available at:]