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.

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC v. 1.81 Acres of Land Owned By Jones

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

August 21, 2019

MOUNTAIN VALLEY PIPELINE, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
1.81 ACRES OF LAND OWNED BY ROBERT M. JONES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ELIZABETH K. DILLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is constructing an interstate natural gas pipeline. It commenced a condemnation action under the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. § 717 et seq., to acquire a permanent easement and temporary easements on numerous properties, including this property located in Montgomery County, Virginia, and owned by Robert and Donna Jones (collectively, Landowners). On March 8, 2018, the court entered an order in the primary condemnation case, Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC v. Easements to Construct, 7:17-cv-492 (W.D. Va.) (Dkt. No. 716), granting MVP immediate possession of the easements on this property. A trial on just compensation for the takings on the Jones's property is scheduled to begin on August 28, 2019.

         MVP moves to exclude from the upcoming trial the testimony of several of Landowners' experts, Paul Rubin, Steven Noble, and Amy Hudson. It also seeks to exclude or limit testimony of Donna Jones regarding the value of the property and has filed a motion in limine seeking to limit testimony regarding: 1) any pipeline danger / safety issues; 2) other pipeline accidents; 3) appraisals of other properties; 4) settlement offers; 5) amounts of compensation paid to others; and 6) alleged damages from construction. Landowners seek to exclude the testimony of MVP's expert Jared Schweitzer. These matters have been fully briefed and were argued at a hearing. During the hearing, the Landowners agreed that Ms. Jones would not testify regarding the value of the land, but she would just rely on the value opinion of her appraiser. Thus, that motion to exclude Ms. Jones (Dkt. No. 14) will be dismissed as moot. With regard to MVP's motion in limine, defendants agree that they will not offer evidence regarding other pipeline accidents, appraisals of other properties (except for impeachment purposes), and they will not offer evidence of settlement offers or evidence of amounts of compensation paid to others. Thus, those portions of MVP's motion in limine will be dismissed as moot. Of course, the court may revisit these rulings at trial, depending on the evidence elicited and the context in which the evidence is offered.

         For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant MVP's motions to exclude the testimony of Rubin, Noble, and Hudson. The court will also grant MVP's motion in limine regarding pipeline danger / safety issues and dismiss the remaining issues in the motion in limine as moot. Finally, the court will deny the Landowners' motion to exclude Schweitzer's testimony.

         I. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         The motions present various issues of just compensation in eminent domain cases as well as issues involving the qualification of experts and their reliability and relevance. Legal standards regarding the same are set forth herein.

         1. Just compensation for partial permanent takings, including severance damages

         The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibits the taking of private property without just compensation. Lingle v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 544 U.S. 528, 536 (2005). When the government condemns private property for a public purpose, it must pay just compensation for that property. Just compensation is the monetary equivalent of the property taken, and the federal courts have employed the concept of “fair market value” to determine the condemnee's loss. United States v. 564.54 Acres of Land, 441 U.S. 506, 510-11 (1979); Almota Farmers Elevator & Warehouse Co. v. United States, 409 U.S. 470, 473-74 (1973).

         Unless otherwise proscribed by Congress, federal law governs “questions of substantive right, such as the measure of compensation” for federal courts in condemnation proceedings. United States v. Miller, 317 U.S. 369, 379-80 (1942). See also Tenn. Gas Pipeline Co. v. Permanent Easement for 1.7320 Acres, No. 3:cv-11-028, 2014 WL 690700 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 24, 2014) (unpublished) (concluding that federal law applies in determinations of just compensation under the Natural Gas Act). The Fourth Circuit defines just compensation in a case of partial taking as “the value of the land taken plus the depreciation in the market value of the remainder.” United States v. 97.19 Acres of Land, 582 F.2d 878, 881 (4th Cir. 1978) (citing W.Va. Pulp & Paper Co. v. United States, 200 F.2d 100, 104 (4th Cir. 1952)). Moreover, “value [of the condemned land] is to be ascertained as of the date of taking.” Miller, 317 U.S. at 374.

         In West Virginia Pulp and Paper, the Fourth Circuit recognized the well-settled principle that “whenever there has been an actual physical taking of a part of a distinct tract of land, the compensation to be awarded includes not only the market value of that part of the tract appropriated, but the damage to the remainder resulting from that taking, embracing, of course, injury due to the use to which the part appropriated is to be devoted.” 200 F.2d at 102. The court recognized that the landowner was damaged not only by the loss of the land, but also by the proposed use that caused depreciation to the remainder, and therefore was entitled to be awarded a sum that “would put it in as good position pecuniarily as it would have been if its property had not been taken.” Id. at 103. The measure of this sum was “the value of the land taken plus the depreciation in the market value of the remainder due to the use made of the part taken.” Id. at 104. See also 97.19 Acres of Land, 582 F.2d at 881 (citations omitted) (explaining that severance damages to the remainder, if any, are measured as “the difference in market value of the residue before and after the taking”).

         2. Damages for perceived market negative influences

         In a previous opinion, this court analyzed the law with regard to testimony about damages resulting from perceived market negative influences, such as the perceived danger, or unsafe nature, of pipelines. Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC v. 1.23 Acres of Land Owned by Eagle's Nest Ministries, Inc., Civil Action No. 7:18-cv-00610 (W.D. Va.) (7/12/19 Mem. Op. and Order, Dkt. No. 55), and Mountain Valley Pipeline, Inc. v. 6.50 Acres of Land Owned by Sizemore Incorporated of Virginia, Civil Action No. 7:18-cv-00612 (W.D. Va.) (7/12/19 Mem. Op. and Order, Dkt. No. 66). The court will not repeat that entire analysis here, but merely incorporates it by reference. By way of summary, the court held that, to be admissible, an expert's opinions with regard to some hazard incident to the use of the property taken must be supported by some evidence that the hazards are reasonably probable and more than just speculative. Moreover, there must be a nexus between those hazards and/or the public perception in the marketplace-specifically, the marketplace for that property-and a diminution in value of the property. In other words, there must be a causal link between the hazard inherent in the taking and a direct loss in the marketplace. 760.807 Acres of Land, 731 F.2d at 1448. See also Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC v. 0.07 Acres, No. 3:18-cv-00006, 2019 WL 2527571, at *14- 17 (W.D. Va. June 19, 2019) (excluding an expert environmental professional's opinion about a natural gas pipeline's effect on property value because the analysis was not linked to the specific property's value and was therefore irrelevant to the determination of just compensation).

         3. Expert testimony

         Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and the standards established in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), govern admissibility of expert testimony. Rule 702 states:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the ...

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.