United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
(Granting Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Preliminary Injunction for Possession by September 2, 2014)
HENRY E. HUDSON, District Judge.
THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 33) and the Omnibus Motion for Preliminary Injunction for Possession by September 2, 2014 (ECF No. 35) (collectively, "Preliminary Motions") filed by the Plaintiff, Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC ("Plaintiff or "Transco"). This Court by Order (ECF No. 64) entered on August 21, 2014 provided Constance Watkins ("Defendant" or "Ms. Watkins") additional time to respond, as she proceeded in this matter as a pro se litigant and was the sole defendant to provide a response to Plaintiffs Complaint. The Defendant's response (ECF No. 66) was filed on August 27, 2014. Accordingly, the matter is now ripe for disposition.
To be clear, the only issue before the Court is right of entry onto and possession of the land for the installation of pipeline. Issues related to compensation, both amount and form, will be adjudicated separately. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant Transco's Preliminary Motions and award Plaintiff the requested Permanent, Temporary Construction, and Temporary Access Road easements as outlined in the survey plat. (Compl., ECF No. 1, Ex. C thereto.)
Transco is a natural gas pipeline company subject to regulation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under the Natural Gas Act ("NGA" or "the Act"), codified at 15 U.S.C. §§ 717-717z. On November 21, 2013, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") issued Transco a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity ("FERC Certificate"). See Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC, 145 F.E.R.C. ¶61, 152, 2013 WL 6137661. In accordance with the FERC Certificate, Plaintiff intends to build nearly 100miles of a new 24-inch interstate natural gas pipeline ("Virginia Southside Expansion Project" or "the Project") in multiple states. (Compl. at ¶ 15.) The Project will allow Transco to transport natural gas from north to south, to provide natural gas from a "pooling point" in New Jersey to a newnatural gas-fired power station that a Dominion Virginia Power ("DVP") affiliate is building in Brunswick County, Virginia. Transcontinental Gas, 2013 WL 6137661, at *4.
The Virginia portion of the Project involves construction of a new 24-inch natural gas pipeline from Transco's main line in Pittsylvania County, eastward through Halifax, Charlotte, Mecklenberg, and Brunswick Counties. Id. at *1. Approximately the first 91 miles of the new pipeline ("SVL-B") will be constructed roughly parallel to Transco's existing 20-inch South Virginia Lateral-A pipeline ("SVL-A") which has been in operation since the 1960s. Id. To minimize impact on landowners, nearly 90 percent of SVL-B will be constructed within or immediately adjacent to the existing rights-of-way that Transco acquired when it constructed the SVL-A. Transcontinental Gas, 2013 WL 6137661, at *4.
Transco filed the Complaint in this action on June 5, 2014, and the Notices of Condemnation (ECF Nos. 3-31, 39-40, 43) on June 6, June 12, and June 16, seeking to condemn permanent easement together with certain temporary construction easements and a temporary access road easement over real property in which defendant has an interest, which is a parcel of land located in Brunswick County, Virginia, described as follows:
All that certain tract or parcel of land situate in Powellton Magisterial District, Brunswick County, Virginia, containing eighty-two and one-half (82.5) acres, be the same more or less, and bounded as follows, to-wit; on the north by the lands of Stephen Reavis, dec'd' on the east by the lands of Ira Green, dec'd' on the south by the lands of A. T. James, dec'd, and a public road; and on the west by the lands of Johnny Travis, dec'd, being the tract or parcel of land granted to Alfred James by Daniel Travis, and others, in a partition deed dated December 27, 1889, recorded in the Clerk's Office of the Brunswick County, Virginia, in Deed Book 45 at Page 483, less a parcel thereof, containing, by estimation, twelve acres, which was granted to Alfred T. James by Alfred James, by deed dated January 26, 1895, recorded in the said Clerk's Office in Deed Book 47 at Page 718, reference to which deeds is here made for a more detailed description thereof. Being the same real estate conveyed to Alfred James by Deed of Partition from Alfred James and Martha Ann, his wife, Ira Green and Mary, his wife, and Daniel Travis and Louisa, his wife, dated December 27, 1889 and recorded December 30, 1889 in the Clerk's Office of the Circuit Court of Brunswick County, Virginia in Deed Book 45, Page 483.
(Compl. at ¶ 3 (citing Land Records of Brunswick County) ("the Property")).
Pursuant to the FERC Certificate, the easements that Transco seeks to condemn in this action are shown and described on the survey plat and legal description prepared by a Virginia Certified Land Surveyor. (Compl., Ex. Bthere to; Transcontinental Gas, 2013 WL 6137661, at *20). More specifically, the Permanent will be used for the purposes of laying, constructing, maintaining, replacing, and operating the a24-inch pipeline. (Compl. at ¶36.) The Temporary Construction and Access Road easements will be utilized for work related to the construction of the Project. (Compl. at ¶¶ 39-41.) Transco was unable to negotiate the terms of the easements with Defendant, therefore Transco properly filed its Complaint in this Court for condemnation of the easements pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 717f(h). (PI. Br. Supp. Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. B thereto, Declaration of Timothy Chastain. at ¶¶ 8-9.)
Ms. Watkins argues in her response to Plaintiffs motion for injunctive relief that she is asserting the rights of others served by Transco as well, contending that they did not actually receive notice.
Two of the known defendants named in the Complaint have consented in writing to, and accepted full payment for, the easement interests that Transco seeks in this action. These defendants are Sylvia Lash Holman and Dora G. James, who have since been dismissed (ECF Nos. 56, 57) from this action. Consequently, only the remaining twenty-one known defendants, in addition to any unknown owners, have any right to receive an award of compensation in this action.
For the reasons stated in Transco's Reply Brief(ECF No. 62), the Court finds that all defendants were validly served with process as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 71.1(d)(3) and that the 21 day period within which they were required to respond has passed. The only defendant who filed any response within the required 21 day period was Ms. Watkins, with her letter dated July 3, 2014, which the Court treated as her Answer (ECF No. 53). Accordingly, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 71.1(e)(3), all of the defendants served in this ...