We represent landowners faced with condemnation proceedings, and have significant knowledge and experience with proceedings in both state and federal courts. Eminent domain cases are “special proceedings” in both state and federal courts, governed by a different set of rules and procedures than other general civil actions. We have been involved in the process on behalf of our clients from initial negotiations through trial.
All too often we hear from our clients that the threat of condemnation is used by energy companies and overzealous landmen as a negotiating tactic. In our experience, threats of condemnation are usually more bark than they are bite, especially in North Dakota state courts. North Dakota law allows for a landowner to recover attorneys’ fees and expenses in eminent domain cases, so in most situations, although the landowner must pay fees up front, the most likely outcome is that he will receive at least as much, but usually more compensation than is being offered by the condemning authority, and in the end will have his fees and expenses reimbursed as well. Although fee recovery is unlikely for interstate natural gas lines in federal court, landowners should still not be afraid to challenge a pipeline developer in federal courts. Most developers much prefer to settle with the landowner and would prefer to avoid a trial on damages, so these cases also often settle before going to trial.
Another important aspect of condemnation proceedings relates to the scope of the estate taken. In our experience, condemning authorities often attempt to take more than is necessary for the “public purpose” for which they are condemning land. For example, a condemning authority might try to take the entire estate in land (referred to as “fee simple”) rather than just an easement; or if the authority takes an easement, it might take more rights than it needs, such as the right to use adjacent lands as it chooses. Limiting the scope of what is taken in an eminent domain proceeding can be as important as obtaining a just award of compensation.
We are familiar not only with North Dakota law, but with developments in eminent domain law around the country, and in our practice we also strive to move the yardsticks whenever possible and when practical for our clients. We also understand the practical aspects of eminent domain proceedings, and we are comfortable with negotiating or taking challenges to eminent domain through all levels of the court system. In summary, landowners should not feel threatened by the eminent domain process, and our attorneys will be there every stop of the way to guide you through the process, and obtain the compensation and terms you deserve.