U.S. Supreme Court Denies Cert In Case Dealing with Pipeline Company’s Abuses of Eminent Domain

John Kramer
John Kramer · May 28, 2019

Arlington, Va.—The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to review a case that documented how pipeline companies flout the law by taking property before compensating property owners.

The case arose out of southeast Pennsylvania where Gary and Michelle Erb purchased a 72-acre tract of land in Conestoga, where they built their dream home. Their hope was to have their three sons build homes on the land as well, so they could all enjoy the hiking and hunting that is readily available in the beautiful rural setting.

But the Erbs’ dream was destroyed when the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company (Transco) applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for authorization to build its Atlantic Sunrise Project—a natural gas pipeline running through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas. The lower courts granted Transco the power to install its pipeline before ever paying the Erbs for the taking, even though that is what Congress demands of these private companies. Now, two years after the pipeline was forced through their property, the Erbs have still not received any compensation from the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company.

IJ documented hundreds of other examples nationwide where private pipeline companies took property before paying the landowner compensation—all with the blessing of the courts.

“Defending property rights is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Robert McNamara, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represented the Erbs and their neighbors in their U.S. Supreme Court appeal. “Today’s denial is disappointing, but it is only one step in the process. And the Institute for Justice will keep up this fight until we find justice for property owners nationwide who are finding their rights violated by these powerful private companies.”

“In every other context, the transfer of property and the payment of compensation go hand in hand,” said IJ Attorney Sam Gedge. “Today’s decision leaves in place a process that systematically disadvantages property owners whose land is taken for pipeline construction, and we are committed to seeing that process dismantled.”

“Eminent domain is one of the most significant powers the government has at its disposal,” said IJ President and General Counsel Scott Bullock. “When Congress delegates that power to private companies to use for their own ends, courts must read those delegations narrowly, not broadly. The decision in this case does precisely the opposite. IJ will continue to represent courageous property owners who are ready and willing to stand up to defend their rights, and IJ will make them able to do so.”

The Erbs tell their story in this short video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kiUPH8-4_s8.

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 Arizona; 17 homes and businesses 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:  https://ij.org/case/pennsylvania-pipeline-eminent-domain/.]