July 3, 2020
In a ruling issued yesterday, the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s decision in Vest v. Mountain Valley Pipeline to award MVP summary judgement. The challenge, brought by a landowner impacted by the pipeline, alleged civil trespass claims against MVP surveyors and questioned the viability of the Commonwealth’s survey statute itself. The Court affirmed the previous ruling without addressing the merits of the claims brought by Vest’s attorneys.
The statute in question in the case, § 56-49.01(C), stipulates that “Notice of intent to enter shall…be made not less than 15 days prior to the date of mailing of the notice of intent to enter,” and thus is impossible to comply with, Vest’s attorney argued.
Fred Vest, Bent Mountain Landowner
“In 1969, my country called upon me and I served honorably in Vietnam. I’ve made a good life for my family and contributed to my community from my farm on Bent Mountain, which has been our refuge. In this decision and other decisions related to MVP, I feel my country and the law have abandoned me.”
Russell Chisholm, Co-Chair for Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights
“While the public could get lost in procedure here, the Vest appeal was about two things—first, that Virginia’s present survey statute is incomprehensible. In the course of oral arguments, one justice quipped that in this statute the legislature appeared to have ‘anticipated time travel.’ And ultimately, this case was about the denial of the landowner’s day in court.
“It’s disappointing that Virginia’s Supreme Court has left the public without a long needed dissection of bad law. Of nine pages on procedure, footnote two holds the only mention of the statute’s disconnected directives. For six years, the statute written for the gas industry has befuddled police, local administrators and landowners alike, inflicting chaos in conflicts between landowners and surveyors on private property sought by MVP. Situated four hours from sites along the MVP, the Virginia Supreme Court has chosen to sidestep the real issues, leaving the public in survey ‘mayhem.’ The same Virginia Supreme Court ruled in an earlier Nelson County case that the word ‘and’ equals ‘or’ under the same statute, a ruling which similarly favored the gas industry.
“Mr. Vest is among several landowners who are still fighting eminent domain, and whose property spans several Virginia and West Virginia counties where MVP has been stopped by FERC and the courts from construction.
“Significantly, this case is also about the Supreme Court blessing of a Roanoke Circuit Court judge’s summary dismissal. Despite significant ‘facts in controversy’ on the trial and appellate record, the courts have once again denied the landowner a jury trial. It is troubling that six years into MVP’s arrival in Southwest Virginia to take, for private profit, the property of some 300 landowners—not one survey abuse or eminent domain case in Southwest Virginia along the MVP route has proceeded to a jury trial. The bar and the judiciary should reckon with that.”