Landowners’ lawsuit over Dakota Access heads to appeals court
BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota landowners who unsuccessfully sued the developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline for allegedly underpaying for land easements are maintaining that not all of their claims should have been thrown out by a federal judge.
Attorneys for the 21 landowners are scheduled to take their argument before an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Thursday. They want the case sent back to federal court in North Dakota to resolve at least some of the claims.
The landowners sued in January 2017, alleging a company formed by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners and a hired land acquisition consulting business used deception to acquire private land easements for the $3.8 billion pipeline built to move North Dakota oil to Illinois. They sought more than $4 million in damages.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland a year ago sided with the defendants. He ruled that the landowners had failed to prove their claims, in part because fraud-based claims under federal court rules require a higher standard of proof. Hovland said the plaintiffs “clearly failed to specifically allege who made the fraudulent statements, when the statements were made, and to whom the statements were made.”
The landowners in their appeal maintain that not all of their claims were based on alleged fraud.
“Proving harassment, threat, intimidation, misrepresentation, deception or any other unfair tactic allows plaintiffs to proceed with a case under a lesser pleading standard than the fraud pleading standard,” landowner attorney Peter Zuger said in court documents.
Defense attorney Amy Miller disagreed in court documents.
“A plaintiff cannot convert a fraud claim into a general grievance by simply omitting any explicit reference to fraud,” she said.
The landowners maintained that their compensation for allowing the pipeline to cross their land was as much as nine times lower than what other landowners got. They also alleged they were told that if they didn’t agree to the offered amount, they faced losing money or getting nothing either because their land would be condemned through eminent domain or the pipeline would be moved elsewhere.
The landowners who sued represent only about 3 percent of the 800 North Dakotans who provided easements for the pipeline, according to Energy Transfer Partners.
The pipeline has been moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois since June 2017.