In a unanimous panel opinion, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in our favor 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. Even though it is a long-established rule of evidence that property owners may testify regarding the value of their property, government entities and utilities often attempt, as in this case, to prevent the property owner from testifying about their own property.
Andrew Brigham and the Brigham Property Rights Law Firm successfully argued for the property owner at trial and obtained a favorable jury verdict. When the pipeline company appealed, the Brigham Property Rights Firm brought in Thor Hearne, Steve Davis, and True North Law to handle the appeal due to the complex federal appellate issues involved.
In this case, the 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 argued the Sunderman family was not entitled to any severance damages due to the stigma of having a potentially-dangerous natural gas pipeline across the family’s property. The pipeline company also objected to the property owner, Jan Sunderman, testifying regarding the value of her property, even though she had owned the property for decades and had extensive experience subdividing and selling portions of her property in the past. The pipeline company argued property owners whose land is taken by eminent domain are unqualified to testify as to the value of their own property unless they have actual experience selling property encumbered by natural gas pipelines.
Thor Hearne argued the appeal before an 11th Circuit panel of three judges. The unanimous panel held that “because Sunderman’s opinion was based on her personal experience and knowledge,” her testimony at trial was property permitted by the trial court.