On July 25th, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in favor of the property owner – Sunderman Groves – in two consolidated appeals in Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC v. 3.921 Acres of Land in Lake County, Florida (Sabal Trail v. Sunderman Groves). The court’s ruling was the second victory for the landowner and will help landowners in natural gas pipeline cases in Florida and across the country.
In this case, the interstate pipeline company, Sabal Trail Transmission, installed its natural gas pipeline across 40 acres of the Sunderman family’s Florida orange grove property. Sabal Trail’s 517-mile-long pipeline stretches through three states and has the capacity of transporting over one billion cubic-feet of natural gas per day. Where it crosses the Sundermans’ land, the pipeline is identified by six orange-colored warning signs, stating, “WARNING Gas Pipeline.” But the pipeline company wanted to prevent the owner of the property from testifying as to the property’s value and did not want to reimburse the owner for her attorney fees the pipeline company forced the owner to incur.
This is the second decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in this case. In the first appeal, the 11th Circuit ruled in favor of the landowner, holding that a property owner is qualified to testify at trial regarding the value of her property, including severance damages, when a natural gas pipeline company took her property by eminent domain. The pipeline company had sought to exclude the owner’s testimony at trial and then appealed the trial court’s decision allowing the testimony.
In this second decision, the 11th Circuit held that Florida law, and not federal law, controls the rule regarding the amount of compensation the pipeline company must pay a landowner for taking the landowner’s property. The 11th Circuit held that it must follow its prior decisions, which provided that state law governs, including a decision in another Sabal Trail appeal in which True North Law and the Brigham Property Rights Law Firm recently prevailed.