Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC v. 6.71 Acres

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

May 22, 2018

Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
6.71 acres, more or less, in Augusta County, Virginia, ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for just compensation. (Dkt. 32). This case was previously dismissed by Plaintiff Atlantic Coast Pipeline pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(i) and 71.1(i)(1)(A).[1] (Dkts. 30-31). Defendants contend that dismissal under Rule 71.1(i)(1)(A) was improper because Plaintiff had, without permission or court order, allegedly used an access road on Defendants' property during the proceedings.[2]Defendants argue this alleged use constitutes “possession” under the Rule and precludes dismissal until after just compensation is awarded for that taking. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 71.1(i)(1)(C). Thus, the issue before the Court is a narrow one: whether a plaintiff's unauthorized use of a defendant's property during a Rule 71.1 proceeding is considered taking “possession” under Rule 71.1(i)(1)(C). Under Rule 71.1, “possession” means the exercise of control over land pursuant to a legal right. Because Plaintiff did not have a legal right to be on the land when it allegedly used the access road, I find it could not have taken “possession” within the meaning of Rule 71.1. Therefore, I will deny Defendants' motion.

         I. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 71.1(i)

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 71.1(i), a condemnation action can be dismissed in one of three ways: by plaintiff, by stipulation, or by court order. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 71(i)(1)(A)-(C). Under subsection (A): “If no compensation hearing on a piece of property has begun, and if the plaintiff has not acquired title or a lesser interest or taken possession, the plaintiff may, without a court order, dismiss the action as to that property by filing a notice of dismissal briefly describing the property.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 71(i)(1)(A). Additionally, the action can be dismissed by stipulation, and without a court order, “before a judgment has been entered vesting the plaintiff with title or a lesser interest in or possession of the property.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 71.1(i)(1)(B). In contrast, under subsection (C):

At any time before compensation has been determined and paid, the court may, after a motion and hearing, dismiss the action as to a piece of property. But if the plaintiff has already taken title, a lesser interest, or possession as to any part of it, the court must award compensation for the title, lesser interest, or possession taken.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 71.1(i)(1)(C) (emphasis added). See, e.g., Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. v. An Easement to Construct, Operate & Maintain a 24-Inch Gas Transmission Pipeline, No. CIV. 3:07CV00028, 2009 WL 1489935, at *2 (W.D. Va. May 26, 2009) (“[B]ecause [the pipeline] had already taken possession of the easements described in the original Complaint by the date of the pretrial hearing, ” pursuant to E. Tennessee Nat. Gas Co. v. Sage, 361 F.3d 808 (4th Cir. 2004), “dismissing the action under Rule 71.1(i)(1)(A) was not a possibility.”).

         II. Discussion

         The relief Defendants seek rises and falls with the meaning of the word “possession” in Rule 71.1. Due to the generally “undeveloped state of case law under Rule 71.1 and its predecessor Rule 71A . . ., ” this remains an open question without binding or persuasive authority to lead the way. Columbia Gas Transmission Corp., 2009 WL 1489935, at *2. Thus, the Court interprets the word, and the Rule, using traditional canons of construction.

         “Interpreting a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure is no different from interpreting a statute.” Robinson v. G D C, Inc., 193 F.Supp.3d 577, 579 (E.D. Va. 2016) (citing Marx v. Gen. Revenue Corp., 568 U.S. 371, 376 (2013) (interpreting Rule 54(d)(1) using a traditional canon of statutory construction)). “[T]he starting point for interpreting a [Rule] is the language of the [Rule] itself.” Consumer Prod. Safety Comm'n v. GTE Sylvania, Inc., 447 U.S. 102, 108 (1980). “[U]nless otherwise defined, words will be interpreted as taking their ordinary, contemporary, common meaning.” Perrin v. United States, 444 U.S. 37, 42 (1979). This includes interpreting the relevant word “not in a vacuum, but with reference to the [Rule's] context, ‘structure, history, and purpose' . . . not to mention common sense . . . .” Abramski v. United States, 134 S.Ct. 2259, 2267 (2014) (quoting Maracich v. Spears, 570 U.S. 48, 76 (2013)).

         The word “possession” does not hold one universal meaning in all contexts. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not define the word. And Black's Law Dictionary provides little clarity:

1. The fact of having or holding property in one's power; the exercise of dominion over property. 2. The right under which one may exercise control over something to the exclusion of all others; the continuing exercise of a claim to the exclusive use of a material object. . . .

Possession, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014) (emphasis added). Under the first definition, unauthorized use of the access road, an exercise of “dominion” over the property, would be considered “possession” under the Rule. Under the second definition, unauthorized use of the access road, an act taken without an exclusive “right” of possession, could not be “possession” under the Rule. In sum, the true meaning of the word can vary based on its context.[3]

         When a single word can be used “in many contexts and with various shades of meaning, . . . [t]he maxim noscitur a sociis, that a word is known by the company it keeps, while not an inescapable rule, is often wisely applied . . . .” Jarecki v. G. D. Searle & Co., 367 U.S. 303, 307 (1961). “This rule we rely upon to avoid ascribing to one word a meaning so broad that it is inconsistent with its accompanying words . . . .” Gustafson v. Alloyd Co., 513 U.S. 561, 575 (1995).

         In Rule 71.1(i)(1)(C), the words immediately surrounding “possession” demonstrate that the word denotes the exercise of control over land pursuant to a legal right. The Rule states: “But if the plaintiff has already taken title, a lesser interest, or possession as to any part of it, the court must award compensation for the title, lesser interest, or possession taken.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 71.1(i)(1)(C). “Possession” is the last word in a list of words that all refer to legal property rights. See Title, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014) (“The union of all elements (as ownership, possession, and custody) constituting the legal right to control and dispose of property; the legal link between a person who owns property and the property itself . . . .” (emphasis added)); Interest, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014) (“A legal share in something; all or part of alegal or equitable claim ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.