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Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC v. Estate

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Columbus Division

August 21, 2017

SABAL TRAIL TRANSMISSION, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
REAL ESTATE, ET AL. Defendants.

          ORDER

          CLAY D. LAND CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         ORDER Presently pending before the Court is Plaintiff Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC's summary judgment motion on the issue of just compensation in this condemnation action. As discussed below, the Court grants Sabal Trail's motion (ECF No. 41) and finds that $382.00 is just compensation for the easements.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC received authorization from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build an interstate natural gas pipeline. Sabal Trail brought this condemnation action under the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 717-717z, seeking permanent and temporary easements over one tract of land in Webster County, Georgia. According to Sabal Trail, the property was part of the Estate Of Willie C. Walker, Jr. & Josephine Walker, and Sabal Trail named as Defendants in this action the Estate and individuals “known to have or claim an interest in the Property from which easements and associated rights are sought to be condemned.” Compl. ¶ 5, ECF No. 1. Each Defendant was served personally with notice of this action in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 71.1(d)(3)(A) or by publication in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 71.1(d)(3)(B).

         On June 10, 2016, the Court concluded that Sabal Trail was entitled to possession of the easements it sought once it posted a security bond. Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC v. Estate, No. 4:16-CV-108, 2016 WL 3248367, at *12-*13, *18 (M.D. Ga. June 10, 2016), amended, No. 4:16-CV-108, 2016 WL 3251577 (M.D. Ga. June 10, 2016). Sabal Trail posted the security bond on July 1, 2016. Pl.'s Notice of Posting Security Bonds, July 1, 2016, ECF No. 35. The only remaining issue is just compensation.

         11. Discussion

         Just compensation means “the fair market value of the property on the date of the taking.” United States ex rel.TVA v. 1.72 Acres of Land in Tenn., 821 F.3d 742, 756 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing United States v. Miller, 317 U.S. 369, 373-74 (1943)). In a partial takings case like this one, just compensation “is the difference in fair market value of the whole tract before and after the taking.” Id. (quoting United States ex rel. TVA v. Easements and Rights-of-Way over 6 Acres of Land, 117 F. App'x 422, 423 (6th Cir. 2004)); accord United States v. 33.92356 Acres Of Land, 585 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2009) (collecting cases); United States v. 68.94 Acres of Land, More or Less, Situate in Kent Cty., State of Del., 918 F.2d 389, 393 (3d Cir. 1990). Generally, “market or comparable sales data . . . is the best evidence of market value.” 1.72 Acres of Land in Tenn., 821 F.3d at 757.

         Sabal Trail argues that just compensation for the easements in this case is $382.00. Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. 2, ECF No. 41-1. Summary judgment may be granted only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In this condemnation case, Defendants have the “burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, what amount constitutes just compensation.” 1.72 Acres of Land in Tennessee, 821 F.3d at 756. Defendants were entitled to “present evidence on the amount of compensation to be paid.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 71.1(e)(3). None of the Defendants responded to Sabal Trail's summary judgment motion or presented any evidence on what amount constitutes just compensation for the easements.

         Sabal Trail did present evidence on the issue of just compensation: the expert report of J. Carl Schultz, Jr., a certified real property appraiser. Schultz Report, ECF No. 43 at 6-148. Schultz conducted an appraisal of the property and concluded that the “before” value of the parcel as of July 1, 2016 was $89, 400.00 and the “after” value, taking into account the temporary and permanent easements, was $89, 018.00. Id. at 9. Therefore, according to Schultz, just compensation for the easements in this case is $382.00. Id. Again, Defendants did not present any evidence on the issue of just compensation. Based on the evidence before it, the Court concludes that $382.00 is just compensation for the easements in this case.

         III. Payment of Compensation by Sabal Trail and Claimant's Application for Obtaining Disbursement

         Within twenty-eight days of the date of this Order, Sabal Trail shall pay into the registry of the Court $382.00 plus prejudgment interest from the date of the taking (July 1, 2016), which shall be calculated at a legal rate of interest of seven percent per annum simple interest. Once this amount is paid into the registry of the Court, the security bond previously posted by Sabal Trail shall be released.

         Defendants may apply to the Court for distribution of the award in accordance with their respective ownership interests. Defendants may apply for a distribution of the award by sending an application to the Clerk of Court, P.O. Box 124, Columbus GA 31902. The Clerk shall docket each application electronically. The application should include:

♦ The applicant's name, address, and email address (if any).
♦ The applicant's claimed interest in the property and the basis for that claim.
♦ Proof of the applicant's interest in the property.

         Applications must be postmarked by December 1, 2017. Any questions regarding the application process should be directed to the Clerk's office via telephone (706-649-7816) or email (columbus.ecf@gamd.uscourts.gov). If multiple applications are received, the ...


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