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Adamson v. Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

November 13, 2013

V. CASSEL ADAMSON, III, Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant,
v.
COLUMBIA GAS TRANSMISSION, LLC, Defendant/Counterclaim Plaintiff

For V. Cassel Adamson, III, Plaintiff, Counter Defendant: John Buckley Warden, IV, LEAD ATTORNEY, Brittany Joy Berlauk, S. Sadiq Gill, DurretteCrump PLC, Richmond, VA.

For Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC, Defendant, Counter Claimant: Travis Aaron Sabalewski, LEAD ATTORNEY, Alison Ross Wickizer Toepp, Reed Smith LLP, Richmond, VA; Michael Sterling Dingman, Reed Smith LLP, Falls Church, VA.

OPINION

Henry E. Hudson, United States District Judge.

Page 701

MEMORANDUM OPINION

(Cross Motions for Summary Judgment)

This is, in essence, a dispute over the dimensions of a natural gas pipeline right of way passing through residential property in Goochland County, Virginia. The easement in question is the product of a right of way agreement granted by prior owners of V. Cassel Adamson, III's (" Adamson" ) property to Commonwealth Natural Gas Corporation (" Commonwealth" ), Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC's (" Columbia" ) predecessor in interest. The right of way, recorded in 1956, neither specifies its width nor describes a designated cleared area, but recites the purpose for which the easement was granted. In subsequent years, Columbia installed two high pressure, below-grade natural gas pipelines in that area. The pipelines are major sources of natural gas for the entire Tidewater region of Virginia.

This case evolved from Columbia's entry onto the easement area of Adamson's property for the purpose of clearing encroaching trees and undergrowth purportedly to enable maintenance and inspection. Adamson contends that the width of Columbia's clearing was beyond the dimensions of the right of way easement and seeks damages for common law trespass. Columbia counters that its entry onto Adamson's property and removal of foliage was within the dedicated right of way. To vindicate its claim, Columbia seeks declaratory judgment defining the current width of the right of way.

This case is presently before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Each claim turns on the construction of the right of way agreement and the legal significance of events following its execution. Each party, however, urges the Court to adopt a different theory of analysis. Both parties have filed detailed memoranda of law supporting their respective positions, accompanied by pertinent land records. The Court heard oral argument on November 7, 2013.

The record reveals that on or about April 20, 1956, Commonwealth entered into a right of way agreement (the " Agreement" ) with Frederick Bennett McBride and Penelope A. McBride (the " McBrides" ), predecessors in titled to the property currently owned by Adamson. The Agreement was recorded among the land records of Goochland County, on or about May 2, 1956. The Agreement, in pertinent part, grants to Commonwealth, its successors and assigns, " the right to la[y], maintain, operate and remove a pipe line, or pipe lines for the transportation of

Page 702

gas, oil, petroleum products, or any other liquids, gases or substances which can be transported through a pipe line, through our lands in Dover District, Goochland County . . . with the right of ingress and egress to and from and through same." (Pl.'s Mem. Support Mot. Summ. J., Ex. A, ECF No. 35 (hereinafter " Agreement" ).) The Agreement also states that " [t]he Grantee is further granted the right at any time to lay additional lines of pipe approximately parallel to the first line herein . . . ." Id.

In 1957, Commonwealth installed the first natural gas pipeline through the easement. The pipeline designated VM 108 was 18 inches in diameter. There is no evidence in the record of the dimensions of the clearing at that time.

In 1969, the McBrides conveyed a large parcel of land, including that currently owned by Adamson, to the Partridge Hill Company. The plat recorded with the Partridge Hill deed reflects an easement sixty feet wide. (Am. Countercl., Exs. 3, 4, ECF No. 28.) ...


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