See you in court? Landowners battle Columbia Gas Transmission

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BUTLER, Ohio — Some Ohio landowners may be surprised when they receive court papers saying they are now part of a counter lawsuit filed by Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC.

The counter lawsuit filed seeks to obtain easements on 89 parcels of land through eminent domain.

In December 2012, Paul Wilson and his wife, Judy, owners of 151 acres; Charles D. and Carleen Wilson, 70 acres; Shawn P. Wilson and Katherine Wilson, 13,9 acres; and Geopetro LLC., 2,600 acres filed a class action lawsuit against Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC, in the U.S. District Court, Southern District, on behalf of all landowners in Ohio whose land is being used by Columbia Gas Transmission as part of an underground storage facility, or storage field.

Counter lawsuit filed

According to court records, a counter lawsuit was filed May 17. The counter lawsuit includes landowners from 11 counties in the Weaver Storage Field, the Benton Storage Field, Brinker Storage Field, Crawford Storage Field, Guernsey Storage Field, Holmes Storage Field, Lorain Storage Field, Lucas Storage Field, Medina Storage Field, Pavonia Storage Field, Wayne Storage Field and the Wellington Storage Field.

89 parcels of land. The counter lawsuit filed by Columbia Gas is seeking permanent easements across, over, under and through the 89 parcels listed in the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, Columbia Gas Transmission claims that it was unable to agree with the landowners on the amount of compensation to be paid for the value of the interests in the property.
The lawsuit also claims the landowners will retain the property and be able to use it as they wish, but Columbia Gas Transmissions will retain the easement.

Leasing

The court records also show that landowners will also retain the right to lease the land to oil and natural gas producers any strata under the surface not already encumbered other than the formations used for storage by Columbia Gas Transmissions (according to the certificates issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).

Negotiations failed

Columbia Gas Transmissions claims in the counter lawsuit it has attempted to negotiate with the landowners involved, but have not been to obtain the easements they are seeking.

Court?

Gail Wilson, with the firm, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, LLP. one of the attorneys who filed the original lawsuit for the properties in Butler and Worthington, Ohio, said many of the landowners in the countersuit may not have been served yet. She said many of them may not have even known they would be part of this lawsuit.

She said it is too early in the litigation to know if and what type of a settlement can be reached in the case. A conference call is set for the week of May 27 and the attorneys involved will decide what the next steps are and where the case proceeds.

Columbia Gas Transmission was contacted by the Farm and Dairy for comment, but said it does not discuss ongoing litigation.

Background

According to court records, the landowners who filed the class action lawsuit do not have a lease signed with Columbia Gas.

However, the landowners’ properties are being used by Columbia Gas Transmission as part of underground storage facilities.

The original lawsuit filed is asking for fair compensation for the landowners.

The case is not about challenging the need for underground storage facilities, but instead asking for fair compensation. The lawsuit claims the landowners are not being compensated for the use of the storage space under their property, and that the land is being used without their permission.

Violating the constitution?

The lawsuit also claims that by Columbia Gas Transmission storing gas under their properties, they are violating the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the “takings clause,” by not compensating the landowners for the use of the land.

The landowners also claim that they have the lost the right to develop and produce the gas and minerals that exist under the property.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

3 Comments

  1. Retired Corn Farmer + JD says:

    My advice for these landowners involved in this case is: first, organize a competent and professional “steering committee” of affected landowners. Second: hire, on a strictly hourly basis, a highly competent “class action legal counsel,” familiar with oil and gas leases to advise the steering committee. You don’t want or need conflicts of interest with attorneys of record; they will be “second opinions.” Third, monitor the entire class’ views, positions, and feelings via a password-protected blog site, set up for free, such as “Google Group.” This is only for starters. I have acted as counsel and lead plaintiff in class action cases in Ohio, South Carolina and California.

    Having just spent the better part of five (5) years in courts all across the country, including state, US District, Bankruptcy and Appeals courts, I can say without reservation that unless YOU protect YOUR OWN INTERESTS, no one else will. In fact, many courts and proceedings today exist solely to enrich lawyers, law firms and the court system. Imagine that! The only place I have found “justice” is in the dictionary, not the courts.

    I had the pleasure of having a Federal Judge openly tell me: “unless we first take your money in this case, how do you expect me to run my court? I have expenses.” Lawyers’ fees alone in his court were over $15 million. One court. This was before we farmers, ranchers, landlords, and homeowners 450 strong saw a thin dime! We all had about $300M “borrowed” by a Fortune 500 company, which was #1 in its field, which promptly filed for bankruptcy after it literally stole our funds. Corporate written “guarantees” were not worth the paper they were printed on. It was truly maddening.

    Honesty may be the best policy, but does this mean or infer that dis-honesty comes in at second place? I have seen plenty of this in my court case, and I actually practiced real estate law for over 35 years before retiring and getting skinned. Today’s court system is a jungle.

    I wish these landowners well. The farm I sold was, in fact, located in the Weaver Gas Field.

  2. Royce Larsen says:

    Over the past decade, I have been engaged in a similar battle with the billionaire Stephens family of Little Rock, Arkansas. They wanted to take my property rights for gas storage under 80 acres that I own in Oklahoma. They offered me a one time payment of $12,000 for a perpetual easement. I hired Dan Biersdorf, an eminent domain attorney from Minneapolis, Minnesota to represent me. He hired professional appraisers and professional engineers who determined that I was due $420,000 in compensation. This all ended up in front of a bench trial in Haskell county Oklahoma last December. The Judge awarded me $9,000 in compensation and I was stuck with $160,000 in expenses paying for the professional witnesses. This has been a life altering experience for me.

    Anyone going up against a gas company and the billionaires that own them need to beware.

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