Local Government

Paul Martin, Esquire

County obligated to compensate utility for the forced relocation of its gas lines within a roadway easement; primary purpose of the plat dedication as a road, and any priority in the timing of the dedication or the location of the dedication in the plat instrument, was irrelevant. St. Charles Co. v. Laclede Gas Co., No. 91539 (Mo. banc, August 30, 2011), Teitelman, J.

Certain subdivision plats in St. Charles County established public roads and further labeled those roads as “utility easements.” Laclede installed and maintained gas lines in the roadway easement. The county decided to widen the road, which would require the relocation of the gas lines. Laclede refused to pay for the relocation, and the county sued. The trial court entered summary judgment for the county, and Laclede appealed.

The Supreme Court held that the subdivision plats dedicated the easements, which Laclede accepted by installing and maintaining its lines. Because an easement is a property interest subject to the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, any interference with that right constitutes a taking, and the utility could not be held responsible for the cost of relocating its lines. The Supreme Court rejected the county’s objections to paying Laclede’s relocation costs, holding that (1) the county’s police power over the road was not impinged or diminished by having to pay the costs, (2) the county’s ownership of the fee interest in the road did not divest Laclede of its easements, (3) there was no legal requirement that the easement pre-date the establishment of the road for it to be compensable, and (4) the fact that the subdivision plat first established the road, and subsequently the easement, was meaningless.