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United States v. An Easement And Right of Way Over 0.03 Acres of Land

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

January 17, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ex rel. TENNESSEE VALLEY AUTHORITY PLAINTIFF
v.
AN EASEMENT AND RIGHT-OF-WAY OVER 0.03 ACRE OF LAND, MORE OR LESS, IN OKTIBBEHA COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, and WILLIE DEAN MCGEE, etal DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Now before the Court is Plaintiff United States of America's motion for summary judgment. Doc. 32. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds the motion should be granted.

         Background

          The United States brought this eminent domain action to obtain an easement and right of way for the use by the Tennessee Valley Authority. With the complaint, the United States filed a declaration of taking stating that intended to take an easement and right of way for the use of the Tennessee Valley Authority for the operating and maintaining power and telephone lines. Decl. of Taking ¶ 4, Doc. 2. The easement sought is described in full in an attachment to the Declaration of Taking. See Easement Description, Doc. 2-1.

         The complaint identified fourteen individuals with interests in the property: Willie Dean McGee, Willie Morris Smith, Jr., Eddie Lewis Smith, Betty Jean Hogan, Helen Jean Smith, Wilbert Kent Johnson, Stanley Johnson, Mary Ann Island, Lois Lynn Pitchford, Deborah Alexander, Eddie B. Smith, III, Tara Milla, and Judy Lynn Smith who each owned an undivided 1/14 interest in the property; and Marco Smith, Ventura Donael Smith, and Ayond Kay Smith who each owned an undivided 1/42 interest in the property.

         With the complaint, the United States filed a declaration of taking stating the easement and right of way would be used by the Tennessee Valley Authority for the operating and maintaining power and telephone lines. Decl. of Taking ¶ 4, Doc. 2. The United States also filed a notice of condemnation and served each of the landowners listed above. Pursuant to 40 U.S.C. §§ 3114-3118 this court granted immediate possession of the easement and right-of-way to the TVA.

         Based on independent appraisals commissioned by the TV A, the TVA estimated fair and just compensation for the easement to be $1, 000 and deposited that amount with the Clerk of the Court.

         After serving the Defendants, two of them, Judy Lynn Smith and Eddie L. Smith, settled their interest in the property for $71.42 each, which represented their respective 1/14 interests in the property. Defendant Willie Dean McGee filed an answer. In his answer he did not object to the taking, but requested compensation in the amount of $15, 000. He did not demand a jury trial on the issue of compensation in that answer. No. other Defendant filed an answer or otherwise responded to the complaint.

         The United States now seeks summary judgment, asking this Court to determine the amount of compensation due to the remaining 12 owners and distribute the funds accordingly.

         Summary Judgment Standard in Eminent Domain Cases

         "In an action involving eminent domain under federal law, the court tries all issues, including compensation" except when a party demands a jury trial "within the time to answer." Fed.R.Civ.P. 71.1(h). Here, no Defendant demanded a jury trial, and so, the Court may decide the issue of compensation.

         In an eminent domain proceeding, summary judgment may be granted under Rule 56 when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. "Summary judgment is appropriate in a condemnation case where there is no disputed issue of material fact." Transwestern Pipeline Co. LLC v. 46.78 Acres of Permanent Easement Located in Maricopa Cty., 473 Fed.Appx. 778, 779 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing Etalook v. Exxon Pipeline Co., 831 F.2d 1440, 1446-47 (9th Cir. 1987)); see also United States v. 0.225 Acres of Land in Parish of Plaquemines, La, Etc., No. 16-0792, 2017 WL 2618852, at *4 (E.D. La. Jun. 6, 2017) (summarily decided issue of compensation where no land owner appeared); United States ex rel. Tennessee Valley Authority v. Tree-Removal Rights with Respect to land in McNairy County, Tenn., No. 15-1008, 2015 WL 5499434 (W.D. Term. Sept. 16, 2015) (granting summary judgment in eminent domain proceeding on the issue of compensation).

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). "An issue of fact is material only if 'its resolution could affect the outcome of the action'." Manning v. Chevron Chem. Co., LLC,332 F.3d 874, 877 (5th Cir. 2003) (quoting Wyatt v. Hunt Plywood Co.,297 F.3d 405, 408 (5th Cir. 2002)). The burden then shifts to the nonmovant to "go beyond the pleadings and by... affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, ...


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