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Norfolk, VA 23510
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Fourth Circuit Affirms $1.8 Million Belongs to Farmers

By Waldo & Lyle, P.C.

Harold Hart and Larry Ball had farmed in Southwest Virginia’s rural Wythe County all of their lives. When they saved up enough to buy 400 acres at the intersections of Interstate 77 and Interstate 81 they knew they had more than just another piece of farmland, they had a very valuable piece of property that one day would have significant commercial value.

That day came in early 2000 when Wythe County began to promote their property and its high exposure at the intersection of two Interstate Highways to national manufacturers and retailers who could utilize the prominent position, location and visibility. Harold and Larry believed their retirement dreams were abot to come true. That was all before Duke Energy, a Fortune 500 company, and East Tennessee Natural Gas decided to build a 94 mile, 24 inch non-odorized natural gas pipeline through their farm. The installation of a high-pressured natural gas pipeline would make it difficult, if not impossible, to build major roads across the dangerous instrumentality. Once the pipeline was constructed through Harold and Larry’s land, Wythe County stopped marketing the property to national businesses and corporations.

Because Harold and Larry would not sell, Duke energy used the power of eminent domain to condemn the pipeline through their property. When the pipeline was being constructed Harold was in bed ill recovering from triple bypass surgery. That didn’t stop Duke Energy and East Tennessee Natural Gas officials from coming to his home with U.S. Marshals and telling Harold to stay off their easement. Harold was perplexed. He had never done anything in his life to violate the law and while he didn’t like Duke Energy and Tennessee Natural Gas’s pipeling going through his property, he knew the companies had the legal right to condemn his land.

Harold was offered $60,000 by Duke Energy and to him, that offer was insulting. He hired Hank Howell of Waldo & Lyle P.C. as his attorney and vowed he would roll over to the large corporations. Because the pipeline made the property useless for commercial purposes, it took significant value away from the land and changed its highest and best use. East Tennessee Natural Gas and Duke Energy took Harold and Larry to court where a jury, based on five days of evidence from four appraisers, rejected Duke Energy’s offer of $60,000 and unanimously awarded $1,825,000 as its final verdict.

Although at the time Duke Energy was quoted in the newspaper as stating that they respected the jury system when they said the “system is working as it should,” Duke Energy and East Tennessee Natural Gas had no intention to pay Harold Hart and Larry Ball the award they were owed. Instead East Tennessee appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and asked that the court throw the verdict out or reduce the amount of the award because, in their opinion, the amount was excessive.

In May of 2007, four years after Harold began his battle with Duke Energy a unanimous Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Duke must pay the full $1,825,000. Harold Hart later said, “It was much more than just the money, it was about standing up against a huge corporation that got to condemn my property and destroy its value to make a profit.When they came to my house with U.S. Marshals I felt intimidated and I knew then I would never allow either Duke Energy or East Tennessee Natural Gas to take advantage of me.”