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Judge Punts on Landowner's Keystone Pipeline Challenge

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The Nacogdoches judge who granted a Douglass landowner's request for a temporary restraining order against the Keystone pipeline back in November now is telling him to take his case to another court. County Court at Law Judge Jack Sinz ruled last week that he could not hear Mike Bishop's fraud case against pipeline giant TransCanada -- but the district court judge down the hall could, he added.

See also: - There Will Be Tar Sand

Bishop's case was no longer an eminent domain issue, the judge said, according to Bloomberg. "I'm the judge but I can't just go hear any case I want."

It was the latest disappointment for the ex-Marine and retired chemist who has waged a legal fight against a multibillion-dollar company that will bisect his property with a pipeline built to carry more than 700,000 barrels a day of Canadian tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. In a recent email, he said TransCanada had begun trenching the line's path through his land.

This all began when Bishop, acting as his own attorney, filed his legal challenge in November, alleging the company had fraudulently mischaracterized the nature of its cargo -- viscous dilute bitumen, not crude oil. And to the surprise of many, Bishop was granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting pipeline construction on his land.

It lasted only a few days, though, until TransCanada's lawyers got an emergency hearing and had the order dissolved. Bishop admitted he knew the line would transport diluted bitumen when he signed the contract and accepted compensation for the Keystone's easement. But he added that he had to choose between negotiating and getting "the best deal for my family I could get," or holding out for a potential pittance.

TransCanada's attorney argued that this was a contract dispute, properly heard in district court.

Judge Sinz agreed. This case was no longer about diluted bitumen, alleged lies or potential environmental catastrophe. It boiled down to contract law, a thing outside his jurisdiction and, potentially, to be heard by a judge less friendly to Bishop's plight. The pugnacious landowner isn't ready to give up yet, and vows to appeal.

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