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Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC v. 370.393 Acres, More or Less In, Baltimore County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 9, 2014

COLUMBIA GAS TRANSMISSION, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
370.393 ACRES, MORE OR LESS IN, BALTIMORE COUNTY, MARYLAND LOCATED ON PARCEL IDENTIFICATION NUMBER XX-XX-XXXXXX, OWNED BY STEPHEN A. WILLIAMS AND CHRISTINE C. WILLIAMS, et. al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RICHARD D. BENNETT, District Judge.

This case is one of several[1] initiated by Plaintiff Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC ("Columbia Gas") in this Court in order to obtain the land necessary for the construction of a natural gas pipeline in Baltimore County, Maryland. Pending before this Court is Columbia Gas' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment[2] in which Columbia Gas seeks an order confirming its right to condemn properties of the Defendants pursuant to the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. § 717f(h). The parties' submissions have been reviewed and a hearing was held on August 20, 2014. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 49) is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

This Court reviews the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); see also Hardwick ex rel. Hardwick v. Heyward, 711 F.3d 426, 433 (4th Cir. 2013).

Plaintiff Columbia Gas Transmissions, LLC ("Columbia Gas") is a natural gas company that has sued multiple property owners, the Defendants[3], to obtain various easements and rights-of-way on their property to build a pipeline under the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C.A. § 717, et seq. [4] Since the 1950s, Columbia Gas has operated a 26-inch gas pipeline ("Line MA") in and around Baltimore. Line MA is currently the only pipeline providing gas to certain areas in Baltimore County. Line MA was constructed before federal pipeline safety standards were enacted in 1970, leaving the pipeline vulnerable to corrosion and failure. On November 21, 2013, the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission ("FERC") granted a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to begin a project involving the construction of a redundancy pipeline ("Line MB") to serve Baltimore County in addition to Line MA.

Line MB will be an approximately 21.1 mile pipeline that will be partially located on the properties in question. These properties are located in the middle of the linear 21.1 mile strip of land that Columbia Gas plans to use to construct its pipeline. Columbia Gas seeks to obtain certain temporary and permanent easements over the properties in order to successfully complete the construction of this project. Specifically, Columbia Gas seeks a combination of five types of easements: permanent easements, access road uses, temporary construction easements, staging yard uses, and temporary construction licenses.[5] The amount of acreage requested ranges from.0084 acres to 2.9649 acres.

Columbia Gas has contacted the Defendants in an attempt to secure agreements granting Columbia Gas the requested easements. See Affidavit of Jacob Frederick ¶ 23, ECF No. 49-2 ("Columbia sent written offers to Landowners in December 2013, and January and February 2014."). Defendants contend that these interactions have mainly consisted of simple form letters from Columbia Gas. Defendants have refused to agree to the terms offered by Columbia Gas, expressing concerns about the nature and scope of the requested property rights as well as the potential for damage to or decrease in value of their property. After these attempts to negotiate, Plaintiff filed its Complaint in Condemnation on February 8, 2014.[6] Thereafter, the Plaintiff filed the pending Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 49).[7]

During the pendency of this matter, Columbia Gas reached settlements with several of the Defendants, including Michael and Donna Oliver and Ruth and Bradley Moore. See ECF No. 71, 70.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A material fact is one that "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue over a material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a judge's function is limited to determining whether sufficient evidence exists on a claimed factual dispute to warrant submission of the matter to a jury for resolution at trial. Id. at 249.

The Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. 717 et seq., governs the process for siting and constructing natural gas pipelines. Under that Act, natural gas pipeline companies that have obtained a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have the right to condemn property for the purposes of pipeline construction. Under Rule 71.1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint for condemnation of property must contain the following information:

(A) the authority for the taking;
(B) the uses for which the property is to be taken;
(C) a description sufficient to identify ...

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