United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Gainesville Division
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL
E. Walker United States District Judge
dichotomy between personal liberties and property rights is a
false one. Property does not have rights. People have
rights[, such as t]he right to enjoy property without
unlawful deprivation . . . . That rights in property are
basic civil rights has long been recognized.” Lynch
v. Household Fin. Corp., 405 U.S. 538, 552 (1972)
(citations omitted). Those basic civil rights also dictate
that private property owners must be compensated when their
property is taken for public use.
case presents a related, straightforward choice-of-law
question. What substantive law controls the amount of
compensation due to a private landowner for the taking of his
or her property by a private entity exercising federal
eminent-domain authority-federal or state law? If federal law
controls, Defendants are not entitled to litigation expenses.
But if state law controls, they are.
Eleventh Circuit precedent-and the overwhelming weight of
authority-teaches that state substantive law controls,
Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, ECF No.
69, is DENIED.
Trail Transmission, LLC (“Plaintiff”) proposes to
construct 516.2 miles of mainline pipeline in Alabama,
Georgia, and Florida, known as the Sabal Trail Project
(“Project”). ECF No. 1, at 3-4. Plaintiff also
proposes associated lateral pipelines in Florida, five new
compressor stations, and a hub in Central Florida.
Id. at 4. The Project will supply natural gas to
Florida Power & Light Company and Duke Energy Florida,
LLC, for their power-generation needs. Id. at 3-4.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”)
issued Plaintiff a Certificate of Public Convenience and
Necessity (“FERC Certificate”) for the Project.
Id. at 3. As holder of that FERC Certificate, §
717f(h) of the Natural Gas Act authorizes Plaintiff to
“exercise . . . the right of eminent domain” and
bring a condemnation action against private property owners
for any property needed to construct, operate, or maintain a
pipeline or associated facilities. 15 U.S.C. § 717f(h)
initiated an eminent-domain condemnation action against
multiple private property owners (“Defendants”).
ECF No. 1. Plaintiff then filed a Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment, asserting that the Fifth Amendment to the United
States Constitution's “just compensation”
measure-which does not include the property owner's
litigation expenses in an eminent-domain condemnation
action-governs. ECF No. 69, at 1; see also United States
v. Bodcaw Co., 440 U.S. 202, 203 (1979) (“Thus,
‘[a]ttorneys' fees and expenses are not embraced
within just compensation . . . .'” (quoting
Dohany v. Rogers, 281 U.S. 362, 368 (1930))).
Defendants disagree, and argue that the Florida
Constitution's “full compensation”
measure-which includes reasonable attorney's fees and
expenses-governs. ECF No. 81, at 1-2; see also Fla.
Const. art. X, § 6(a) (“No private property shall
be taken except for a public purpose and with full
compensation therefor paid to each owner . . . .”
(emphasis added)); Joseph B. Doerr Trust v.
Cent. Fla. Expressway Auth., 177 So.3d 1209, 1215 (Fla.
2015) (holding that it is “fundamentally clear”
that the definition of full compensation under Florida's
Constitution includes reasonable attorney's fees
judgment is appropriate when “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). The parties agree to all material facts;
thus, the only disputes relate to questions of law.
“Where the unresolved issues are primarily legal rather
than factual, summary judgment is particularly
appropriate.” Bruley v. Vill. Green Mgmt. Co.,
592 F.Supp.2d 1381, 1388 (M.D. Fla. 2008) (quoting Uhl v.
Swanstrom, 79 F.3d 751, 754 (8th Cir. 1996)).
contends that the Fifth Amendment's “just
compensation” measure controls because federal law
supplies the exclusive measure of compensation in Natural Gas
Act condemnation proceedings. This Court disagrees.
law governs questions involving the rights and liabilities
under the Natural Gas Act. See United States v. Kimbell
Foods, Inc., 440 U.S. 715, 726 (1979) (“[F]ederal
law governs questions involving the rights of the United
States arising under nationwide federal programs.”).
But that does not mean that federal law necessarily applies.
See Id. at 727-28 (“Controversies directly
affecting the operations of federal programs, although
governed by federal law, do not inevitably require resort to
uniform federal rules.” (citations omitted)).
“Instead, ‘whether to adopt state law or to
fashion a national federal rule is a matter of judicial
policy dependent upon a variety of considerations always
relevant to the nature of the specific governmental interests
and to the effects upon them of applying state
law.'” Redwing Carriers, Inc. v. Saraland
Apartments, 94 F.3d 1489, 1500 (11th Cir. 1996) (quoting
Kimbell Foods, 440 U.S. at 728).
scenario, courts must first start “with the premise
that state law should supply the federal rule unless there is
an expression of legislative intent to the contrary, or,
failing that, a showing that state law conflicts
significantly with any federal interests or policies . . .
.” Ga. Power Co. v. Sanders, 617 F.2d 1112,
1116 (5th Cir. 1980) (citing Wallis v. Pan Am. Petroleum
Corp., 384 U.S. 63, 68 (1966)). When deciding whether
there is a “significant conflict” between a
federal policy or interest and the application of state law,
id. at 1117 (quoting Wallis, 384 U.S. at
68), courts consider the following factors: “(1) the
need for a nationally uniform body of law, (2) whether the
application of state law would frustrate specific objectives
of the federal program at issue, and (3) the extent to which
application of a federal rule would upset commercial
relationships predicated on state law.” Columbia
Gas Transmission Corp. v. Exclusive Nat. Gas Storage
Easement, 962 F.2d 1192, 1195-96 (6th Cir. 1992) (citing
Kimbell Foods, 440 U.S. at 728-29).
Court's analysis begins with the language of the Natural
Gas Act. See Id. at 1197 (beginning a similar case
“with the statutory language”). Section 717f(h)
states that “[t]he practice and procedure in any action
or proceeding for [condemnation under § 717f(h)] shall
conform as nearly as may be with the practice and procedure
in similar action or proceeding in the courts of the State
where the property is situated . . . .” 15 U.S.C. §
language is largely unhelpful and arguably irrelevant. Both
parties agree that “the practices and procedures of
federal eminent domain actions, including those filed
pursuant to the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C § 717f(h), are
governed by Rule [71.1]and not by state [procedural]
law.” S. Nat. Gas Co. v. Land, Cull-man Cty.,
197 F.3d 1368, 1375 (11th Cir. 1999); see also ECF
No. 69, at 12; ECF No. 81, at 21. That ...