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Nebraska citizens filed a lawsuit, Thompson v. Heineman, challenging the constitutional basis of LB 1161, Nebraska’s current pipeline siting/route law. The landowners, represented by David Domina, are standing up for citizens across the state who deserve laws that protect Nebraska’s land and water and that honor the state’s constitution.
To contact the legal team, email Brian Jorde or call 402-965-3598. Jane Kleeb can be reached at 402-705-3622 or firstname.lastname@example.org. More press resources and photos of plantiffs below.
PHOTOS FOR MEDIA:
Landowners' attorneys at Domina Law Group respond to TransCanada statement on court's ruling in Thompson v. Heineman, embedded below.
Judge Stacy rules LB 1161 is unconstitutional. The full decision and press release from Domina Law Group are below.
Quote from Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska:
"Citizens won today. We beat a corrupt bill that Gov. Heineman and the Nebraska Legislature passed in order to pave the way for a foreign corporation to run roughshod over American landowners. We look forward to the Public Service Commission giving due process to a route that TransCanada will have to now submit to this proper regulatory body in Nebraska. TransCanada learned a hard lesson today: never underestimate the power of family farmers and ranchers protecting their land and water."
Quote from Plaintiff and Nebraska landowner Susan Dunavan:
"The success in challenging the constitutionality of LB1161 shows that our elected officials must be held accountable for their actions. Laws must be passed to protect the land, water and landowners rights regarding eminent domain and the right to due process. I commend Judge Stacy for her diligence in examining the serious issues of this case and applaud her for upholding citizens rights given by them by the Nebraska State Constitution."
Quote from Plaintiff and Nebraska rancher and landowner Suz Straka:
"I thank Judge Stacey and Dave Domina, our legal team for defending and knowing our constitutional rights. It saddens me that Gov Heinemen, Jon Bruning and Senator Jim Smith have half a brain to think we would stand by and let them take the law into their own hands. This is an immense victory against eminent domain for every rancher, farmer, and citizen this bill would have negatively affected."
Quote from Plaintiff and Nebraska rancher and landowner Randy Thompson:
"First of all I would like to express my gratitude to all of the people who have helped make this action possible, and Iwant to give a special thanks to our legal team of David Domina and Brian Jorde for doing an outstanding job of representing us in this case. [TransCanada] came out here like a bunch of bullies and tried to force it down our throats. They told us there was nothing we could do to stop it."
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 19, 2014
David A. Domina
Domina Law Group pc llo
District Court Declares Nebraska Pipeline Law Unconstitutional
Governor’s Approval Of Pipeline Declared Invalid;
TransCanada KXL Pipeline Hits Wall In Nebraska Court
OMAHA, Neb. – February 19, 2014 – The Nebraska Legislature’s 2012 L.B.1161 allowing TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline Co. to proceed with construction across Nebraska was declared unconstitutional and void. The ruling came from Lancaster County District Court Judge Stephanie Stacy, today. The Court ruled for three Nebraska landowners who challenge the law. The ruling includes a permanent injunction preventing Gov. Dave Heineman, and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality from taking any further action to authorize or advance the pipeline under the unconstitutional law.
Judge Stacy concluded that LB 1161 unconstitutionally confers upon the Governor of Nebraska authority to approve a crude oil pipeline route, and to authorize the crude oil pipeline company to exercise the power of eminent domain against Nebraska landowners. Siding with three landowner plaintiffs, the District Court concluded that under Nebraska’s State Constitution, exclusive regulatory control over pipeline companies like TransCanada Keystone XL must be exercised by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, and cannot be given to the Governor.
The Court declared LB 1161, unconstitutional and void. Judge Stacy also concluded that action by Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman purporting to approve TransCanada’s route and to empower the pipeline company to take land from Nebraska property owners is null and void. The court’s action effectively rescinds Gov. Heineman’s notification to Pres. Barack Obama that Nebraska legal procedures had been satisfied. Now, it is back to the drawing board for Gov. Heineman and the Legislature.
Dave Domina, the lawyer who handled the case for the landowners summarized the Ruling: “Under the Court’s ruling, TransCanada has no approved route in Nebraska. TransCanada is not authorized to condemn the property against Nebraska landowners. The pipeline project is at standstill in this State.” The Court’s extensive, 50-page opinion is accompanied by 248 footnotes. The opinion dissects LB1161 on state constitutional grounds. The decision turns largely on the pipeline’s status as a “common carrier”. Common carriers are regulated by the Public Service Commission under the Nebraska Constitution.
Dave Domina noted that “this case is not about the merits of any pipeline in particular. This is a landowner rights case involving whether a specific statute was invalid under the Nebraska State Constitution.” Domina’s clients contend the law was, and is, unconstitutional and void. The District Court agreed.
Domina stressed, “This is not a commentary on the pipeline project. That subject belongs to the President of the United States exclusively. This ruling means that, in Nebraska, the Governor’s office has no role to play, and all state law decisions must be made by the Public Service Commission.”
A copy of the Court’s Opinion is found HERE (and embedded below):
The landowners' attorneys, with Domina Law Group, presented oral arguments on Friday, Sept. 27 in Thompson v. Heineman. Judge Stacy is expected to enter her decision in several months. The losing side is then expected to appeal the case to the Nebraska Supreme Court. Press coverage:
- "Keystone XL pipeline protesters rally before court hearing," Lincoln Journal Star, 9/27/13
- "In court, landowners seek to hit reset on Keystone XL pipeline route," Omaha World-Herald, 9/28/13
- "Pipeline Plaintiffs Call LB 1161 'Standardless Legislation,'" 10/11 News, 9/28/13
- WHAT: Landowners vs. KXL (Thompson v. Heineman) Lawsuit Hearing
- WHEN: Friday, Sept. 27, 2013
- 2:30 p.m. Rally on steps outside Lancaster County Courthouse
*Supporters may bring signs to the rally, but they aren't allowed in the courthouse. (a Bold staffer can hold them for you)
- 3:30 p.m. Court hearing
- 4:30 p.m. (estimated time) Press conference after hearing on courthouse steps
- 2:30 p.m. Rally on steps outside Lancaster County Courthouse
The Judge did kick out our equal protection claim, which is not critical for our constitutional argument.
All other claims PLUS the Judge is allowing a new claim to move forward from our side that argues because Gov. Heineman acted under an unconstitutional law, then any acts flowing from Governor's approval of the route are also unconstitutional.
This means, if we win the lawsuit, the route and eminent domain process for TransCanada is thrown out and TransCanada must go through the PSC to get their route approved, and they don't have eminent domain powers unless they get all of their permits, including a presidential permit. This gives landowners the space to not be forced to sign over their land to a foreign corporation unless the project has officially been approved. As it stands now, TransCanada could take land and then if their project was never approved, they could turn around and sell that land easement to anyone they wanted.
There is a July 19th at 3pm court date in the ruling by the judge (see below) and once we have more details on that we will let folks know.
3/18/2013 : Judge Stacy ruled in the citizens favor allowing our side to ammend the lawsuit to make it crystal clear if our side wins at the full trial, then Gov. Heineman's route (and anything that Obama might do before the case is decided) becomes void. Meaning, the route is far from settled, landowners should not be signing anything with TC (unless you want them to have a lifetime easement that they could turn around and use for a different project) and Congress should back down from any forced approval of the pipeline. This is the second time citizens have won in this case; the first time came when Judge Stacy denied the State of Nebraska's motion to dismiss the case.
1/22/2013 : Gov. Heineman approved the route even though there is an active legal challenge to that authority and route process. Judge Stacy's ruling in favor of the citizens to move forward with the challenge is now posted, click here.
1/3/2013 : HUGE GOOD NEWS. Nebraska judge Stacy just ruled to allow the citizens' lawsuit against LB 1161, the unconstitutional pipeline siting law, to move forward giving a huge victory to citizens. We are unsure if Gov. Heineman will now move with caution on allowing the legally challenged DEQ process to move forward. We will see more on that in the coming days and weeks. The Nebraska DEQ Final Report on the Keystone XL pipeline route and the US State Department Environmental Review will both be released soon.
Action Request: Call Governor Heineman (Phone: 402-471-2244). Ask him to reject this pipeline route and to have the PSC review TransCanada's application. Demand that he stand by his words and keep the pipeline out of the aquifer. Ask him to deny the proposed Keystone XL route and put the power back in the hands of the Public Service Commission (PSC), which has clear rules and regulations for pipelines developed through citizen input. LB 1161 is unconstitutional and the judge is moving the lawsuit forward. Heineman should not continue to operate under this law.
9/14/2012: The first hearing was held with Judge Stephanie Stacy presiding. Judge Stacy was appointed in 2011. The State of Nebraska was asking the judge to dismiss the case on the grounds that the citizens did not have "standing"--meaning from the state's perspective since they were not a pipeline company or a state agency involved that they had no right to bring the case forward. The State also argued that--according to them--the taxpayers were not paying for the study the case should be dismissed. The legal team for the citizens--led by David Domina and Brian Jorde--hit back on the State's claims citing various cases that set precedent for the citizens to bring this claim forward. The State has attempted to make similar arguments in lawsuits since 2004 losing each time. Domina went a step further in his argument saying Plaintiffs could amend their lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of LB 1161 on the grounds the state has and is illegally advancing credit to a private corporation. This certainly had the State’s lawyers writing notes to each other. Judge Stacy will make a decision on the State’s “Motion to Dismiss” in writing after further study of the arguments, she did not issue a ruling today. We do not have a specific timeframe but expect the decision in thirty days or so. We feel confident in the case and believe the PSC--not the DEQ and Governor--should be routing all oil pipelines, including TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL which right now, because of LB 1161 (and 15 minutes of debate in the Unicameral), is exempt from the PSC rules and regulations. The entire Special Session was devoted to enacting “MOPSA” (Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act) which consists of 13 separate statutes clearly laying out exactly what pipelines must do and what specific criteria the PSC (Public Service Commission) must utilize in its evaluation of a major pipeline route. If the case moves forward, we could be looking at several months before a decision is made on the constitutionality of LB 1161. The decision will certainly have an impact on TransCanada's route in Nebraska, who has authority over common carriers and eminent domain powers.
Press resources and pictures of plantiffs/landowners
LB 1161 bill, this is what is being challenged by lawsuit
TransCanada’s controversial pipeline permit application is being processed under LB 1161, which became law in April—reversing many rules and regulations passed during the historic Special Session last November.
LB 1161 gives the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality authority to review pipeline routes, and ultimately tasks Governor Heineman with approving a pipeline route and granting the pipeline company immediate eminent domain authority without having to wait for federal permits to be issued for the project.
Critical steps and information for a transparent environmental assessment process was eliminated with LB 1161 giving Nebraska land to a foreign country though eminent domain with insufficient review or oversight.
The lawsuit, Thompson v. Heineman, has four main areas:
• LB 1161 unconstitutionally delegates authority of a common carrier to the Nebraska DEQ when common carriers are assigned already by Nebraska’s constitution to the Public Service Commission.
• LB 1161 violates separation of powers because it fails to provide for judicial review.
• LB 1161 violates separation of powers because it unlawfully delegates to the governor the decision to permit the exercise of eminent domain without adequate and definite standards required to meet constitutional requirement for due process.
• LB 1161 constitutes special legislation for a single company and not persons in general which violates the Nebraska state constitution.
Randy Thompson: “As a Nebraska landowner and taxpaying citizen I have decided to challenge the validity of Nebraska legislation LB 1161, which was just recently signed into law. I have made this decision because I feel it is not in the best interest of Nebraska, nor the citizens of Nebraska, to have our legislators crafting special legislation to meet the specific demands of an individual corporation. I am also strongly opposed to the eminent domain provisions of this bill, which, as written, would allow a foreign corporation to condemn Nebraska properties prior to having a permit to construct their project within our borders.”
Suz Luebbe: “I believe very strongly in our rights as Nebraska citizens. All of us take it extremely personally when we are threatened with eminent domain. The elected officials of Nebraska should remember that their loyalties should be with Nebraskans first, U.S citizens second, and foreigners last. I owe it to the past, present, and future generations to pursue this action upon our Governor and State Senators to enact common sense laws that are also constitutional.”
Susan Dunavan: "I became involved in this case because our native prairie grassland that we have spent over 30 years protecting is being threatened by a foreign pipeline. I am also here to be a voice for future generations. Since 2009 I have attended meetings and hearings about the pipeline. I have written my concerns to State and Federal Officials, Senators, Congressmen and bureaucrats only to have my voice unheard. The Nebraska State Motto is "Equality Before the Law." Our Legislature and Governor gave special favors to a foreign corporation but did not listen to their own Nebraska constituents. Now we need to go to court to protect the rights to due process which landowners and citizens would lose from this law that improperly delegates eminent domain authority to the Governor."
Press Contacts: Brian Jorde and David Domina, 402-493-4100, BJorde@dominalaw.com / Jane Kleeb, 402-705-3622
Photos and Graphics: Photos and graphics can be used for press use only. Please give photo credits to the photographer listed on each photo and to Bold Nebraska. Graphic credit goes to Justin Kemerling. If higher res versions are needed, please contact email@example.com.
Lawsuit: Link to lawsuit text filed with court.