Major victory: Federal Judge Rules in Favor of American Indian Plaintiffs: Natural Gas Line Ordered Removed from Land
In a major victory for American Indian land rights, a federal judge on Tuesday, March 28, 2017, ordered Enable Midstream Partners and its affiliates to remove a natural gas pipeline from 38 American Indian land owners’ property near Anadarko, Oklahoma. A tract of the land is part of the Kiowa Tribes of Oklahoma.
The Order was entered today in the Davilla v. Enable Midstream Partners, L.P., et al., Case No. CIV-15-1262-M (Western District of Oklahoma) case. The 38 Native American land owners are represented by attorneys David C. Smith, Dustin T. Greene, and Catherine F. Munson of Kilpatrick Townsend.
Plaintiffs are enrolled members of the Comanche, Caddo, Apache, Cherokee, and Kiowa Tribes of Oklahoma.
Between 1980 and 2000, Enable operated the pipeline on Plaintiffs’ land pursuant to an easement granted to it by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (“BIA”). The Court found that Enable’s easement expired in 2000, yet Enable continued operate the pipeline without an easement, putting it in trespass and leading to the filing of Plaintiffs’ lawsuit.
On Plaintiffs’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and for a Permanent Injunction, the Court found that “plaintiffs have objected to the renewal of the easement and defendants’ continued use of the pipeline from the time defendants first sought the renewal of the easement,” and that Enable and its predecessor, Enogex, had failed to comply with any of the federal statutes under which they could have secured a valid easement.
The Court also noted that “on March 23, 2010, more than five and a half years before the instant action was filed” the BIA instructed Enogex that “[i]f valid approval of a right of way for this tract is not timely secured, Enogex should be directed to move the pipeline off the subject property.” Yet, “defendants have done nothing to move the pipeline off the tract ….”
With the entry of this Order, the only issue that remains in the case is damages for Enable’s trespass since 2000. This decision marks a significant victory for Native American land rights.