This blog has previously written about the real estate litigation involving the Mariner East 2 pipeline proposed to be built across south Pennsylvania to a port on the Delaware River north of Philadelphia. Many local residents have expressed strong opposition to the natural gas pipeline, claiming that it will have significant adverse environmental impacts without offsetting benefits to local communities. One of the central legal issues in the case is whether the builder of the pipeline, Sunoco Logistics, may use Pennsylvania’s eminent domain law to compel local land owners to sell their land to enable pipeline construction.
A Philadelphia judge recently handed down a decision that gives significant assistance to the pipeline’s opponents by denying Sunoco’s motion to dismiss their lawsuit. The plaintiffs argued that Sunoco was engaged in interstate commerce and was not a Pennsylvania utility within the meaning of the eminent domain statute. The judge agreed, stating that the plaintiffs provided facts that “amply support a finding that Sunoco’s Mariner 2 East project is engaged in interstate commerce.” The decision does not affect the merits of the case, but it raises serious doubts about whether Sunoco can use the power of eminent domain to acquire land for pipeline construction. Sunoco is expected to appeal this decision to the state court of appeals.
If Sunoco is denied the right to use eminent domain, its property acquisition costs will probable increase significantly. Moreover, its ability to negotiate with landowners will be restricted if it cannot use the threat of eminent domain to obtain lower prices and sales free from environmental restrictions.
Anyone who owns property that may be the target of a taking under the state’s eminent domain law may benefit from consulting an attorney who is experienced in such cases. Such a consultation can provide a helpful analysis of the propriety of using eminent domain and an enumeration of various strategies that might be used to obtain the highest value for the land and proper relocation benefits.
Source: National Public Radio State Impact, “Pipeline opponents welcome court ruling on challenge to eminent domain,” Jon Hurdle, Feb. 11, 2016