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United States v. An Easement and Right-of-Way Over 0.24 Acre of Land

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

August 15, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA upon the relation and for the use of the TENNESSEE VALLEY AUTHORITY PLAINTIFF
v.
AN EASEMENT AND RIGHT-OF-WAY OVER 0.24 ACRE OF LAND, MORE OR LESS, IN TALLAHATCHIE COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, et al DEFENDANTS

          ORDER AND MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SHARION AYCOCK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Tennessee Valley Authority (“TVA”) filed its Complaint [1] on August 2, 2018, to acquire a permanent easement and right-of-way across a 19-acre parcel located in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. Subsequently, pro se Defendants Ora Johnson, Beulah Washington, and Jerlean Hawkins filed an Answer and Counterclaim [8] claiming an interest in the parcel, objecting to the condemnation and taking of the property, and contesting compensation. Presently before the Court is TVA's Motion to Enter Judgment on the Pleadings or Motion to Strike Defendants' Objection and Counterclaims [36] and TVA's Motion for Summary Judgment on the Issue of Just Compensation [38]. The issues are fully briefed and ripe for review.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         In 2014, TVA announced a new transmission line to be built in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. One of the properties the new transmission line will cross is a 19-acre parcel. This lawsuit involves the taking of a 0.24-acre easement across the 19-acre parcel for the new transmission line.

         In August 2018, TVA filed its Complaint [1], Declaration of Taking [2], and Notice of Condemnation [3] pursuant to the TVA Act and Taking Act, to acquire a permanent easement and right-of-way across the 19-acre parcel. After reviewing two appraisal reports valuing the easement at $625 and $650, Ivan J. Antal, II, (TVA's Manager of Real Property Transactions) determined that the fair market value for the easement and right-of-way taken was $700. See Declaration [38-1].

         TVA deposited this $700 with the Court and the Clerk of the Court noted on the docket the Court's receipt of the deposit.

         Ownership of the parcel is uncertain because of multiple generations of intestate succession, so multiple persons and heirs (known and unknown) were served by personal service or publication. See Notices [4, 7, 10]. After service by publication, four individuals filed a response claiming interest in the parcel.

         Pro se Defendants Ora Johnson, Beulah Washington, and Jerlean Hawkins filed an Answer and Counterclaim [8] where they collectively claimed a 45% interest in the parcel, objected to the condemnation and taking of the property, and contested compensation. Defendants claimed to be the heirs of John Raybon, James Raybon, and Willie Raybon, who were listed in TVA's Complaint [1] as persons who have or may claim an interest in the property.

         The fourth Defendant, Johnny D. Harper, filed a Motion [29] seeking relief from the expert disclosure deadline. His attorney William Kellum later made an appearance, but neither Harper or Kellum made expert disclosures before the amended April 1, 2019 deadline and neither has made any such disclosure as of this date. See Notice of Appearance [32].

         TVA now requests that the Court grant its Motion [36] to Enter Judgment on the Pleadings or in the alternative, to Strike Defendants' Objection and Counterclaims. TVA also requests that the Court grant its Motion [38] for Summary Judgment on the Issue of Just Compensation.

         Legal Standard

         Under Rule 12(c), “After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed R. Civ. P. Rule 12(c). This motion is designed to “dispose of cases where material facts are not in dispute and judgment on the merits can be rendered by looking to the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noted facts.” Williams v. Jenkins, No. 3:08-CV-69, 2009 WL 1323008, at *1 (N.D. Miss. May 12, 2009); Herbert Abstract Co., Inc. v. Touchstone Properties, Ltd., 914 F.2d 74, 76 (5th Cir. 1990). Granting a motion for judgment on the pleadings is “appropriate only if material facts are not in dispute and questions of law are all that remain.” Williams, 2009 WL 1323008, at *1; Voest-Alpine Trading USA Corp. v. Bank of China, 142 F.3d 887, 891 (5th Cir. 1998).

         Regarding a motion to strike, Rule 12(f) states that “The court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter. The court may act: (1) on its own; or (2) on motion made by a party . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 12(f).

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” In other words, “summary judgment is proper only when the record demonstrates that no genuine issue of material fact exists and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Luv N' Care Ltd. v. Groupo Rimar, 844 F.3d 442, 447 (5th Cir. 2016). The movant bears the burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Nola Spice Designs, L.L.C. v. Haydel Enters., Inc., 783 F.3d 527, 536 (5th Cir. 2015).

         Discussion and Analysis

         A. Whether Defendants' Objection and Counterclaims are Permitted.

         i. Defendant's Objection and Counterclaims.

         Pro se Defendants Ora Johnson, Beulah Washington, and Jerlean Hawkins filed the following objection and counterclaims:

1. [TVA] is not lawfully entitled to take the defendant's property for the purpose described in the complaint due to . . . Section 306(b) failure to purchase property [in] its [entirety] with fair and just price prior to the [commencement] of [condemnation] action with good faith dealings [8].
3. Defendant request[s] the court to Order [TVA] to make a just and fair offer to purchase the entire property in good faith for said property so Defendant may present offer to other heirs of family owned property prior to the commencement of condemnation of said Property [8].
4. Defendant request the Court if upon not obtaining said Order within paragraph 3 then, [TVA] shall make a good faith just and fair offer for the partial part that Plaintiff wants to add permanent easement and right-[of]-way on said Property [8].
5. Defendant request[s] the Court for a jury trial for a fair and just cost of said partial part of said Property [8].

         ii. Federal Condemnation Law is Governed by the TVA Act, the Taking Act, and Rule 71.1.

         The Defendants contest the taking of the 0.24-acre of the parcel by citing “Section 306(b)” in their Answer [8]. It is unclear what this law is. TVA argues that this case is governed by the TVA ...


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