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United States v. Tree Removal Rights with Respect to Land in Marshall County

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

November 19, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA upon the relation and for the use of the TENNESSEE VALLEY AUTHORITY PLAINTIFF
v.
TREE REMOVAL RIGHTS WITH RESPECT TO LAND IN MARSHALL COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI; NATHANIEL LESUEUR; BANK OF HOLLY SPRINGS; and WILLIAM F. SCHNELLER, trustee DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          DEBRA M. BROWN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This condemnation action is before the Court on the “Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.” Doc. #19.

         I

         Procedural History

         On July 11, 2017, the United States of America, upon the relation and for the use of the Tennessee Valley Authority (“TVA”), filed a complaint in this Court “for the taking of property under the power of eminent domain and for the ascertainment and award of just compensation to the owners and parties in interest.” Doc. #1 at ¶ 1. Specifically, TVA seeks to take for public use tree-removal rights of land located in Marshall County, Mississippi (“Property”). Id. at ¶ 5; Doc. #1-1. The complaint lists as defendants (1) Nathaniel Lesueur, the owner of the Property; (2) the Bank of Holly Springs, a holder of a lien on the Property under two deeds of trust; and (3) William F. Schneller, the designated trustee of the deeds of trust. Doc. #1 at ¶ 6.

         Also on July 11, 2017, TVA filed a “Declaration of Taking” signed by Elizabeth Birdwell from its General Counsel's Office, Doc. #2; and a “Notice of Condemnation” identifying the Property and the defendants, Doc. #3. The following day, TVA deposited five hundred dollars into the Court's registry.

         On August 2, 2017, TVA filed a “Notice of Completion of Service of Pleadings upon All Defendants as of July 28, 2017, ” representing that the complaint, the Declaration of Taking, and the Notice of Condemnation were all served on the defendants. Doc. #7. On August 3, 2017, TVA filed “Plaintiff's Motion for Entry of an Order of Immediate Possession” and an accompanying memorandum. Docs. #8, #9. The motion and memorandum include certificates of service reflecting that each was mailed to the defendants. The defendants did not respond to the motion.

         On October 16, 2017, this Court granted the motion for immediate possession. Doc. #13. Subsequently, on June 12, 2018, TVA filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to establish that $500 represents just compensation for the taken property. Doc. #19. Approximately six weeks after the summary judgment motion's filing, Lesueur, acting pro se, filed an “Answer” which both disputes the propriety of summary judgment and purports to assert a counterclaim against TVA. Doc. #24. TVA answered Lesueur's counterclaim and filed a reply in support of its motion for summary judgment. Docs. #30, #31.

         II

         Summary Judgment in Condemnation Proceedings

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 71.1, the rule which governs condemnation proceedings in federal court:

In an action involving eminent domain under federal law, the court tries all issues, including compensation, except when compensation must be determined:
(A) by any tribunal specially constituted by a federal statute to determine compensation; or
(B) if there is no such tribunal, by a jury when a party demands one within the time to answer or within any additional time the court sets, unless ...

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