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Pipeline under construction. Photo courtesy of The Intelligencer.

A recent ruling in the Wood County Court of Common Pleas found that Kinder Morgan, a private energy company, could not use the power of eminent domain to take private property for the construction of a pipeline project. In April of this year, the Texas-based company filed condemnation lawsuits against property owners in Ohio to obtain pipeline easements. The company had been planning the construction of the Utopia Pipeline, which would transport ethane, a fracking product used in plastics manufacturing, through Ohio to Canada.  The pipeline would have crossed through Wood County for about 20 miles, entering from the south, and travelling west, north of Bowling Green.

The landowners were represented by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, an Ohio based legal advocacy group. They argued that the Utopia Pipeline did not fulfill the “public use” standard for eminent domain required by the Ohio Constitution on the basis of the fact that the pipeline only benefited the private Canadian corporation to whom the product was being transported. The 1851 Center also argued that the taking was not a “public necessity,” that the route was not rigidly set by the government, and could have been adjusted by Kinder Morgan to accommodate landowners’ preferences.

Judge Robert Pollex who presided over the case, agreed with the 1851 Center. In his ruling he explained:

  • “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 United 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.”

Maurice Thompson, executive director of the 1851 Center, issued the following statement:

“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. While we fully support the continued development of oil and gas reserves in eastern Ohio, profits 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.”