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Southern Natural Gas Co. v. Land, Cullman County

Citation: 30 ELR 20265
No. No. 99-6008, 197 F.3d 1368/(11th Cir., 12/16/1999)

The court affirms a district court decision to use a Fed. R. Civ. P. 71A authorized federal land commission instead of a jury trial to determine the amount of just compensation a property owner would receive due to the condemnation of its property by a gas company for the construction of gas lines. The company filed for condemnation pursuant to the Natural Gas Act (NGA), and the owner argued that the NGA's practice and procedure clause requires a jury trial for condemnation actions. The court first holds that if Fed. R.Civ. P. 71A applies, it authorized the district court to use a commission in this case. The court next holds that the passage of Fed. R. Civ. P. 71A in 1951 superseded the NGA's practice and procedure clause, which was enacted in 1938. Fed. R. Civ. P. 71A was promulgated to override a number of confusing federal eminent domain practice and procedure provisions, such as that of the NGA's practice and procedure clause. Thus, the practices and procedures of federal eminent domain actions, including those filed pursuant to the NGA are governed by Fed. R. Civ. P. 71A and not by state law. Therefore, it was within the district court's discretion to deny the owner's demand for a jury trial and appoint a commission to determine just compensation.

The court next holds that the company's complaint for condemnation satisfied Fed. R. Civ. P. 71A's requirement that such a complaint include a description of the property sufficient for its identification. The court then affirms the district court conclusion that the commission erroneously awarded the owner damages for future improvements because according to the record of evidence, plans for any future improvements to the property were speculative at best. Last, the court vacated the district court's reduction of the commission's award to the ownerfor cattle dislocation. The district court reduced the award because of insufficient evidence, but it failed to identify any specific evidence that supported its own lower award. Therefore, on remand the district court must make more specific findings as to the damage caused by cattle dislocation.

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (7 pp., ELR Order No. L-160).

Counsel for Plaintiff
Tony G. Miller
Maynard, Cooper & Gale
2400 AmSouth/Harbert Plaza
1901 6th Ave. N., Birmingham AL 35203
(205) 254-1000

Counsel for Defendants
Eric Johnston
Law Offices of Eric Johnston
2700 Hwy. 280 S., Birmingham AL 35223
(205) 879-9220