The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in favor of Laclede Gas Company in a case that impacts utilities across the State of Missouri.
In 2008, St. Charles County filed suit against Laclede, seeking to force Laclede to move certain gas lines in order to accommodate a road construction project by the County. Laclede asserted that the County was required to compensate Laclede for the move because the gas lines were located in easements dedicated to Laclede by means of subdivision plats, a common arrangement by which developers of subdivisions provide for utility services to homes in such subdivisions. The County argued that its police power to regulate its roads trumped Laclede’s easement rights, and therefore, it was not required to compensate Laclede.
Both Laclede and the County filed motions for summary judgment. The trial court (in St. Charles County) granted the County’s motion and entered judgment in favor of the County. Laclede appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court’s judgment by a 2 to 1 majority. The Court of Appeals ordered the case transferred to the Missouri Supreme Court pursuant to Rule 83.02 as a “matter of general interest or importance.”
On August 30, 2011, the Missouri Supreme Court issued its opinion reversing the trial court’s judgment. The Supreme Court held that Laclede’s lines were located in easements, which are constitutionally-protected property interests, and the County must therefore compensate Laclede for moving its lines located in such easements. Because utilities commonly place their facilities in easements dedicated by subdivision plat, the Supreme Court’s decision will affect utilities throughout the state.