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St. Clair Co. judge denies Keystone Pipeline developers' attempt to transfer Bond Co. farmer's suit

By Record News | May 2, 2016

St. Clair County Associate Judge Randall Kelley denied a motion from builders of the Keystone oil pipeline to transfer a Bond County farmer’s damage suit to Bond County circuit court.

“Here, defendants are not inconvenienced by litigating in St. Clair County,” Kelley wrote on April 22.

Kelley wrote that proximity to Lambert Airport was more convenient for Canadian developer TransCanada and for Sheehan Pipeline, a defendant from Oklahoma.

He wrote that defendant Erb Equipment has a large office in Belleville, near the St. Clair County courthouse.

Grey Chatham Jr. of Belleville filed the suit last year for Louise Downen, alleging her land yields a reduced crop and her pond no longer holds water.

“There are rocks and other debris through the easement that prevent the tilling of the acreage in question,” Chatham wrote.

The suit named N&W Horizontal Boring as a fourth defendant, but that company was voluntarily dismissed in January.

Over defense objections, the complaint was amended in February.

On March 2, Erb Equipment counsel Donald Ohl of Edwardsville moved for transfer to Bond County.

“St. Clair County residents should not be burdened with jury duty given the fact that the incident did not occur in, and has no relation to, St. Clair County,” Ohl wrote.

He attached a motion that Chatham filed in Bond County on Sept. 1, in eminent domain proceedings that started in 2008.

The motion sought to vacate Downen’s easement and order defendants off the property for irreversibly harming her topsoil and destroying her pond.

On March 7, TransCanada counsel David Fedder of St. Louis moved for transfer.

“No part of the Keystone Pipeline touches St. Clair County, Illinois,” he wrote.

Fedder wrote that Sheehan Pipeline maintained an equipment yard in Lawrenceville but none of its work as contractor had any connection to St. Clair County.

He wrote that Erb Equipment is in Madison County and transacts some business in St. Clair County, but that none of that business pertains to Downen’s allegations.

“As was the case with N&W Horizontal Boring, it appears that plaintiff improperly joined Erb as a defendant for the sole purpose of attempting to secure venue in St. Clair County,” Fedder wrote.

“Plaintiff lacks any basis for a reasonable belief that her claims against Erb are valid and could prevail.

“The filing of the motion to vacate in Bond County unequivocally demonstrates plaintiff’s awareness of the proper and appropriate forum for this litigation.”

Kelley held a hearing on March 17, and summarized it in his order.

“Arguments heard in both support and opposition in this cause suggest that evidence could easily be presented in St. Clair County,” he wrote.

Kelley wrote that Downen’s attorney in St. Clair County possesses photographs, reports, exhibits, and transcripts of the Illinois Commerce Commission.

He rejected an argument that jurors would need to view the premises, writing that no defendant has submitted evidence that they tried to view the premises.

He wrote that each defendant does business in the state and Erb does business in St. Clair County, and that his court grants trial dates to any parties who request them.

Kelley presides over this case and hundreds of other civil law cases worth more than $50,000, an unusual load of heavy cases for an unelected associate judge.

Chief Judge John Baricevic began assigning a third of cases over $50,000 to Kelley last year, after pulling Circuit Judge Robert LeChien from the rotation.

Baricevic sent LeChien to chancery court, where foreclosures dominate the docket, and assigned cases of miscellaneous relief to him.

Baricevic’s son, Congressional candidate Charles Baricevic, practices with Chatham.

Charles Baricevic said when his campaign began that he supported construction of the Keystone Pipeline.

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