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