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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Bond County farmer’s trial in St. Clair County over alleged damage from Keystone Pipeline canceled

State Court

By Record News | Jul 30, 2019

BELLEVILLE – Pipeline builders who executed an easement on a Bond County farm owe the farmer nothing more, according to Circuit Judge Stephen McGlynn. 

On July 16, McGlynn canceled a July 22 bench trial on a claim that TransCanada Keystone Pipeline fraudulently induced Louise Downen to sign the easement. 

He had previously granted summary judgment but hadn’t vacated the trial date. 

McGlynn let Downen file a motion to amend her complaint, but soon decided he didn’t need to hear the motion or hold the trial. 

Crews laid the line across the farm, south of Greenville, in 2009 and 2010. 

Attorney Grey Chatham Jr. of Belleville sued TransCanada for Downen in 2015, claiming the project reduced her crop yield. 

He wrote that her pond no longer held water, and that rocks and debris prevented tilling of the acreage in question. 

He also sought damages from Keystone contractors Erb Equipment, N & W Horizontal Boring, and Sheehan Pipeline. 

Erb Equipment, a Madison County business, moved for transfer to Bond County. 

Downen had tried to vacate her easement in eminent domain proceedings there. 

Former St. Clair County associate judge Randall Kelley denied transfer, finding no inconvenience for any defendant. 

The contractors settled in due course. 

Downen dismissed most of her claims without prejudice last December, in order to assert a claim under the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act. 

TransCanada moved for summary judgment in April, arguing that the Act didn’t apply, and that time ran out even if it did apply. 

On June 4, Chatham responded that courts should construe the Act liberally. 

“The protections of the Act are not limited only to consumers,” Chatham wrote. 

He wrote that the release didn’t extinguish a consumer fraud claim. 

“Transcanada fraudulently said they would fix future damages and they did not, and had no intention to do so,” he wrote. 

He further wrote that a general release is inapplicable to an unknown claim. 

Time didn’t run out because, “TransCanada has an ongoing obligation to inspect the pipeline in question and to detect areas of erosion, debris and litter,” he wrote. 

On June 14, attorney David Fedder of St. Louis replied for TransCanada that Downen failed to include a single citation to pleadings, depositions, or admissions. 

He wrote that she couldn’t demonstrate how negotiation and execution of the easement implicated consumer protection concerns. 

Her release included “all tree, crop, plant, harvest or yield loss damages” from construction, mitigation, or restoration, he wrote. 

He wrote that the language could hardly encompass her claim more clearly. 

He wrote that the alleged damage was complete upon completion of construction, and that she couldn’t claim additional damages each year. 

On July 1, McGlynn nearly closed the case.  

McGlynn wrote that the applicable statute of limitations barred a consumer fraud claim. 

“Moreover, plaintiff executed prior release that governed the very type of claim for damages sought in this action,” he wrote. 

On that date Chatham moved to continue the trial so he could amend the complaint. 

He wrote that the amended complaint would contain counts similar to those Downen dismissed in December. 

He wrote that those counts would allow TransCanada to demand a jury. 

On that date McGlynn set a hearing for July 17, but he canceled it on a day’s notice in light of his granting of summary judgment. 

He removed Downen from his trial docket.

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