About Air and Water

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Gas pipeline lawsuit judgement affirmed

By Bill Hankins - The Paris News - May 1, 2010

A $1.24 million judgement for 12 Lamar County residents against Natural Gas Pipeline Company of America has been affirmed by the 6th Court of Appeals in Texarkana.

William Wayne Justiss and 11 other property owners brought the suit more than 12 years ago, complaining about the noise and odor the pipeline’s compression station near Howland generated.

The suit was filed after the State of Texas cited NGPC for exceeding permitted emission levels.

Progress on the suit laggedfor approximately 10 years before a Lamar County jury ruled in favor of the landowners and awarded them the $1.24 million in damages for the loss of value of their properties.

The trial court also awarded the plaintiffs $645,229 in prejudgment interest the jury said accrued while the suit was pending.

On appeal, NGPC argued the trial court erred because the nuisance claim was barred by the statute of limitations, the facts of the case are legally insufficient, the facts concerning the jury awards are legally and constitutionally insufficient and prejudgement interest was improperly awarded.

The appeals court handed down its opinion Friday, finding in favor of the plaintiffs on all counts and affirming the trial court’s judgment.

“We thought the jury’s judgment was the right thing, and we are glad the appeals court agreed with us,” said plaintiff attorney James Rodgers.

He said NGPC has one more possible appeal in the case, that being to the Texas Supreme Court.

“I do not know if the Texas Supreme Court will hear the case, or if NGPC will even ask the court to hear an appeal,” Rodgers said.

“I didn’t ever think it (the judgment) would happen,” Justiss said after hearing the appeals court decision Friday. “The natural gas company is still doing that thing down there.”

The Lamar County jury awarded the $1.24 million in damages to nine of the plaintiffs who had sued.

While the lawsuit was pending, some of the plaintiffs brought another suit against parent company Kinder Morgan, which resulted in another damage verdict for trespass during the laying of a pipeline across the property of Justiss and Tommy and Judy Alspaugh.

A jury in 2003 found the company had laid a pipeline improperly on the plaintiffs’ property.

Damages were awarded in that case also.

In the latest suit, NGPC had built a compressor pump station in Howland near the residences of the Justisses, the Alspaughs and plaintiff Joseph Justiss, Joe Don and Judy Mashburn, Joe Denton and Christine Mashburn, Barry and Judy Cope and the late Richard Rast.

Rodgers was assisted by Steve Walker and Judy Hodgkiss in the trial that started Jan. 12, 2009, in Judge Scott McDowell’s 62nd District Court.

According to Justiss, by 1998, the noise and odor became a major problem, but the nearby residents were told there was nothing they could do because the company was in compliance with state monitoring.

Then in 1998, the company was cited by the state for creating “nuisance conditions.”

“The company argued it corrected the situation, but our clients did not believe this and continued to suffer from the same problems,” Rodgers said. “This suit was filed because the company did not correct the problems.”

Natural Gas Pipeline was represented at trial by the law firm of Bracewell and Guiliani of Houston. Their lawyers in trial were Phillip Sharp and Julie Wells.

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