For Success Against A Pipeline, Go To The Right Court

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The first step in successfully challenging the Keystone Pipeline: Choose a court that has jurisdiction. Mr. Bishop learned that lesson the hard way in Bishop v. TransCanada Keystone Pipeline.

Mr. Bishop lived in Nacogdoches County, Texas, when TransCanada attempted to negotiate an easement and pipeline right-of-way. Those negotiations failed and TransCanada brought a condemnation proceeding. Bishop believed TransCanada didn’t have the right of eminent domain and didn’t agree with the special commissioners assigned to the project (the process for Texas condemnation proceedings that aren’t resolved by agreement). The parties settled and executed a mediated settlement agreement.

Mr. Bishop wasn’t happy with the document, and as a pro se plaintiff (that is, without a lawyer to speak for him), filed a new suit in the County Court at Law of Nacogdoches County. He alleged in his petition that the agreements were as a result of coercion, duress and fraud. The question for the court was whether the dispute was over the ownership of land or over a breach of a contract. The significance is that as a statutory county court, the County Court at Law of Nacogdoches County does not have jurisdiction over “a suit for recovery of land.”

The real question was whether an easement involves an interest in land. In his petition Bishop requested that the court prohibit TransCanada from exercising its rights under the easement negotiated at the settlement and to rescind the easement and pipeline rights-of-way. The appellate court concluded that an easement is an interest in land and that the county court at law had no jurisdiction.  Mr. Bishop’s claims were dismissed.

Takeaway

If you are making a trip to the courthouse, bring along a lawyer.