Nebraska Supreme Court says TransCanada doesn’t need to pay landowners’ legal bills

March 11, 2018

LINCOLN — Pipeline developer TransCanada does not need to pay the legal bills for 71 landowners who fought eminent domain cases filed by the Canadian firm, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled on Friday.

The court, in a 13-page ruling, said the landowners failed to offer sufficient proof that they owed specific fees to their Omaha attorneys, Dave Domina and Brian Jorde.

The attorneys had argued that TransCanada owed them about $350,000 for representing landowners in several counties in eminent domain lawsuits, which were filed in 2015 by the pipeline company, then later dismissed.

TransCanada, meanwhile, maintained that there was no evidence that the landowners had made a contract to pay specific legal fees. “Just saying” that they owed money to their attorneys wasn’t enough, TransCanada’s lawyer, Jim Powers of Omaha, had told the Supreme Court.

The court ruling hinged mainly on affidavits submitted by the landowners that stated that they were “indebted” to their lawyers. Since they had prevailed, the landowners sought payment for their reasonable legal expenses from TransCanada. Such reimbursement is allowed under law if a condemnation is lost or “abandoned.”

But the Supreme Court ruled that the affidavits were not specific enough, since they did not detail what fee agreement had been made and what, exactly, was owed by each landowner.

Friday’s ruling is not related to whether the much-delayed, $8 billion pipeline will be built. A separate lawsuit on that matter has been filed with the State Court of Appeals. Oral arguments in that case are not expected until late summer.