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Marine Drags Oil Co into Court

By       Message William Boardman     Permalink
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   By William Boardman   Email address removed  

Don't Tread On Me: Michael Bishop by AP, MBR/Daily Sentinel

If it turns out that a court decides that TransCanada defrauded Texas landowners when it was establishing its right of way for the Keystone XL pipeline's southern leg, legal proceedings in Nacogdoches County Court at Law could stop further construction as early as December 19, but any final resolution of the dispute between TransCanada and pipeline opponents most likely remains a long way off. 

Judge Jack Sinz of the County Court at Law has already issued one temporary restraining order and injunction on December 7, ordering TransCanada to halt pipeline construction, pending a hearing on December 19.    The order took effect on December 11.  Then, after granting the Canadian corporation an emergency hearing on December 13, he vacated the initial order and injunction, while leaving the scheduled merits hearing on the docket. 

Marine vet and retired chemist Michael Bishop of Douglass, Texas, filed the initial complaint that persuaded Judge Sinz there was sufficient cause to issue an injunction.  Bishop owns land through which the pipeline right of way now passes, a right of way that, Bishop argues, TransCanada acquired by fraud, lying to him and other landowners about the nature of the "oil" the pipeline would carry. 

Before Bishop's case could be heard on the facts, TransCanada petitioned the court to withdraw the injunction, since company had paid Bishop for the use of his land, and he had signed an agreement and cashed their check. 

Bishop acknowledged to the judge that he had settled with TransCanada, but only after a prolonged legal struggle in the eminent domain case the company brought against him and which he could no longer afford to fight.  He had rejected TransCanada's first offer of $8,000.  When he finally settled "under duress," as he put it, TransCanada paid him $75,000, of which he kept about $3,800.  The rest went mostly to his lawyers, as well as a fee to a Texas land agency. 

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In the County Court at Law case, Bishop is representing himself without a lawyer.   

   The Judge Did Not Throw Out the Case

When he vacated the injunction, Judge Sinz explained that decision this way: 

"I feel I have no choice but to dissolve the temporary restraining order. You've raised some interesting questions but you've taken their money and given them an easement. And you knew all this when you did it. The case will proceed and I'll continue to consider it."

TransCanada has argued that Bishop is bound by the agreement he signed and for which he was paid, which is a strong contractual argument and the company has a countersuit to that effect.  But Bishop's argument that TransCanada committed fraud -- that the company lied about the pipeline and used coercion to make him give them an easement -- could defeat the contractual argument if the judge finds Bishop's evidence persuasive and credible. 

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A TransCanada said after the hearing, referring to Bishop: "he agreed to the easement and he knew what would be in the pipe."  But they will have to prove that  to the judge's satisfaction. 

The fundamental issue underlying the name-calling arguments, is whether the contents of the pipeline will be "crude oil" as defined by law -- or not. 

There is no question that TransCanada is building the pipeline for tar sands oil -- also known diluted bitumen.  There is no question that bitumen is a solid, that it must be treated in an environmentally unfriendly method to become liquid, and that it must be heated to remain liquid as it passes through the pipeline. 

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Vermonter living in Woodstock: elected to five terms (served 20 years) as side judge (sitting in Superior, Family, and Small Claims Courts); public radio producer, "The Panther Program" -- nationally distributed, three albums (at CD Baby), some (more...)

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