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Local Government

Paul Martin, Esquire 

Gas company obligated to relocate lines at its cost because its casements did not pre-date the public right-of-way (case transferred to Missouri Supreme Court).  St. Charles County v. Laclede Gas Company, No. 93983 (Mo. App. E.D., February 8, 2011), Gaertner, P.J.
St. Charles County embarked on a road improvement project, which required the relocation of Laclede's gas lines in county streets located in different subdivisions.  Laclede demanded reimbursement for the relocation costs.  The county filed suit, asking the trial court to declare that Laclede was obligated to relocate the lines at no cost to the county.  Both parties filed summary judgment motions, and the court granted the county's motion and denied Laclede's.
The Eastern District affirmed but transferred the case to the Missouri Supreme Court because of its general interest and importance.
At issue for the majority was the timing of the interest held by Laclede in the county's streets.  The majority followed the common law rule, that a utility forced to relocate from a public right-of-way must do so at its own expense, unless the utility's interest in the right-of-way pre-dated that of the governing body.  In that the parties' respective interests were conveyed simultaneously in each of several similar subdivision plats, Laclede's interest did not pre-date the county's interest.  The court held that Laclede's interest must yield to the county's interest in providing a safe and efficient roadway system, and Laclede must relocate the lines at its own cost.
The dissent noted that the majority had relied on cases in which the utilities held a franchise in the public streets, but in this case the subdivision plats dedicated "easements" to the utility companies in the designated public streets.  The dissent concluded that Laclede held a property interest in the utility casements, and the county could not interfere with that interest absent condemnation.

The Missouri Bar Courts Bulletin, 11-Mar