Ohio Court: Eminent Domain for Private Pipelines Unconstitutional

Private ethane pipeline to Canada is not a “public use” or “public necessity,” as required by Ohio Constitution

Ruling will protect property rights of Ohio farmers and other rural property owners

utopiaBowling Green, OH – An Ohio court ruled late yesterday that private pipeline companies cannot use eminent domain to forcibly seize Ohioans’ private property for purely private pipeline projects.

The ruling protects the property rights of dozens of Ohioans represented by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law and others along the pipeline route. However, given the escalation in private pipeline construction throughout Ohio and the nation, the decision is anticipated to have impact well beyond just the immediate parties or the Utopia Pipeline.

In April, Texas pipeline corporation Kinder Morgan, using an arcane Ohio statute, sued the farmers in an attempt to forcibly take their land for the benefit of its private ethane pipeline to Canada. In moving to dismiss the case, the 1851 Center argued that the Utopia Pipeline is not a “public use,” as required by the Ohio Constitution. The 1851 Center explained that the pipeline is, for the sole benefit of one private Canadian corporation, shipping ethane (a by-product of fracking) underground throughout Ohio directly to that corporation’s Canadian factory, where the ethane will be used to manufacture plastic products such as water bottles.

The 1851 Center further argued that taking Ohioans’ land was not a “public necessity,” since the pipeline’s route was not set it stone by government, giving Kinder Morgan the freedom (unlike natural gas pipelines) to build its pipeline around objecting landowners.

In a decision extolling private property rights under the Ohio Constitution, Judge Robert Pollex of the Wood County Court of Common Pleas agreed. The Court explained why such attempted land-grabs by large private corporations, particularly those that are not public utilities or otherwise directly providing services to Ohioans, cannot be sustained:

  • “The fundamental principles in the Bill of Rights in our Constitution declare the inviolability of private property, and Ohio has always considered the right of property to be a fundamental right.”
  • “‘Economic development’ alone is not sufficient to satisfy public use requirements.”
  • “In this case Kinder Morgan is taking the private property for the purpose of transporting by pipeline petroleum products for the use of one private manufacturer. The manufacturer is not even a Unites States business, but rather, a Canadian business . . . there is no anticipated circumstances that would show a benefit to the citizens of Ohio or even for that matter, the United States.”
  • “This project and appropriation is not necessary nor a public use. To the extent that the Ohio statutes authorize a common carrier of Kinder Morgan’s type, the legislation is an unconstitutional infringement upon the property rights of the Defendants.”

“The Court’s ruling is a substantial victory for private property rights across Ohio, but above all else, this outcome safeguards the dignity and respect to which every Ohioan is entitled,” explained Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“While we fully support the continued development of oil and gas reserves in eastern Ohio, profit margins related to private efforts should not be inflated at the expense of Ohioans’ rights. Just like churches, gas stations, supermarkets, and other important private endeavors, pipeline construction can and must move forward without using the governmental power of eminent domain to redistribute land from average Ohioans to wealthy politically-connected cronies and elites.”

The Court’s ruling draws a distinction between takings for pipelines facilitating home heating or energy independence and pipelines for purely private commercial interests. While public utilities may exercise eminent domain to provide service to Ohioans’ homes, and certain oil and gas pipelines may even possess eminent domain authority, the Utopia Pipeline remains submerged through the entire state, and provides no service to Ohioans. The ruling will not prevent governments or public utilities from acquiring land for legitimately public pipelines.

The ruling is also an important reminder that Ohioans enjoy greater property rights than those protected by the federal constitution, due to a stringent state constitution.

The 1851 Center’s position was supported by an amicus brief from the Ohio Farm Bureau, as well as the efforts of the northwest Ohio law firm of Mayle, Ray & Mayle, LLC.

Read the Court’s Order upholding property rights HERE.

Read the 1851 Center’s full Motion to Dismiss HERE.