United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
OPINION and ORDER
SUSAN P. WATTERS, District Judge.
Before the Court are three motions in limine filed by Defendant Arvilla Plainbull. For reasons discussed below, the Court denies all three of the motions.
Plainbull is a Native American owner of several allotments located on the Crow Reservation. (Doc. 23 at 3). Plaintiff WBI Energy Transmission, Inc. ("WBI Energy") owns and operates an interstate natural gas pipeline that crosses Plainbull's allotments. (Id. at 3-5). In 1990, WBI Energy was granted a 20-year right-of-away across Plainbull's allotments. (Doc. 25-1). After the right-of-way's expiration, WBI Energy and Plainbull were unable to come to terms for the renewal of the right-of-way. (Doc. 23 at 5). WBI Energy's final written offer to Plainbull was for $61, 100. (Doc. 25 at 5).
Unable to get consent to operate the pipeline across Plainbull's allotments, WBI Energy brought this action to condemn the pipeline's right-of-way pursuant to the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. § 717 et seq. WBI Energy also relies upon 25 U.S.C. § 357 as authority to condemn a Native American allotment.
Plainbull has filed three motions in limine. Although motions in limine are not typically filed this early in the discovery process, Plainbull asks the Court to resolve these issues in advance of the expert disclosures to simplify the issues and eliminate unnecessary costs. Plainbull moves the Court to order that: (1) The practice and procedure for this condemnation action is done pursuant to Montana law; (2) WBI Energy is precluded from presenting evidence or arguing that the value of the property sought to be condemned is worth less than the final offer of $61, 100; and (3) WBI Energy is precluded from presenting evidence or arguing that the condemnation can be for more than a 20 year term. The Court will address each motion separately.
II. Motion in Limine #1
Plainbull argues that under the plain language of 15 U.S.C. § 717f(h) and 25 U.S.C. § 357, Montana condemnation law applies in this action. WBI Energy counters that the subsequently enacted Fed.R.Civ.P. 71.1 has superseded the practice and procedural portions of those statutes. The Court agrees with WBI Energy.
A qualified entity can condemn property to obtain the necessary right-of-way to "construct, operate, and maintain" pipelines for transporting natural gas if it is unable to come to an agreement with the landowner. 15 U.S.C. § 717f(h). Although the condemnation action can be brought in federal court, § 717f(h) provides:
The practice and procedure in any action or proceeding for that purpose in the district court of the United States shall conform as nearly as may be with the practice and procedure in similar action or proceeding in the courts of the State where the property is situated[.] Congress added subsection (h) to § 717f in 1947. Alliance Pipeline L.P. v. 4.360 Acres of Land, More or Less, in S/2 of Section 29, Twp. 163 N., Range 85 W., Renville Cnty., N.D., 746 F.3d 362, 367 (8th Cir. 2014).
25 U.S.C. § 357 authorizes condemnation on Native American allotments, and it similarly provides:
Lands allotted in severalty to Indians may be condemned for any public purpose under the laws of the State or Territory where located in the same manner as land owned in fee may be condemned, and the money awarded as damages shall be paid to the allottee.
§ 357 was enacted in 1901. Reading §§ 717f(h) and 357 in isolation would lead to the conclusion that Montana law should apply in this action, as Plainbull's allotments are located within the State of Montana. However, at the time of their enactments the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure did not provide the framework for initiating a condemnation action. Alliance Pipeline, 746 F.3d at 367.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 71.1 was subsequently adopted in 1951 and provides procedures for condemning real or personal property. Rule 71.1, like all the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, was adopted pursuant to the Rules Enabling Act. Under the Rules Enabling Act, any procedural laws in conflict with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "shall be ...