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Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC v. Permanent Easement Totaling 2.322 Acres

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

November 25, 2014

TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
Permanent easement totaling 2.322 acres, more or less, and temporary easements totaling 3.209 acres, more or less, over a parcel of land in Brunswick County, Virginia ofapproximately 83.00 acres in size, as more particularly described herein, etal, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION (GRANTING PLAINTIFFS MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT)

HENRY E. HUDSON, District Judge.

This action stems from an expansion effort by Plaintiff Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC ("Transco") to build nearly 100 miles of interstate natural gas pipeline throughout Virginia's Southside region. The case is before the Court on Transco's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 72). For the reasons stated herein, Transco's Motion will be GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

1. 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. P 61152, 2013 WL 6137661 (Nov. 21, 2013). In accordance with the FERC Certificate, Transco intends to build nearly 100 miles of a new 24-inch interstate natural gas pipeline ("Virginia Southside Expansion Project" or "the Project") in multiple states. (Complaint, ECF No. 1, at ¶¶ 13, 15.) The Project will allow Transco to transport natural gas from a "pooling point" in New Jersey to a new natural gas-fired power station that a Dominion Virginia Power ("DVP") affiliate is building in Brunswick County, Virginia. Transcontinental Gas, 2013 WL 6137661, at *4.

2. By Order entered on September 2, 2014 (the "September 2nd Order, " ECF No. 68), the Court granted Transco's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 33) and Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF No. 35) (the "Preliminary Motions"). The Court's associated Memorandum Opinion (ECF No. 67) included a detailed description of the Project and defendant real property at issue (the "Property"), which is incorporated by reference into this Memorandum Opinion. ( See Mem. Op. at 3-4.)

3. Transco seeks to condemn a permanent easement over and across 2.322 acres of the Defendant real property (the "Permanent Easement"), as well as certain nonexclusive temporary easements over and across 3.209 acres of the same land (the "Temporary Easements"). The Permanent Easement, which will be used for the purposes of laying, constructing, maintaining, replacing, and operating the 24-inch pipeline, is described as "Area of Proposed Right of Way" in the Survey Plat prepared by a Certified Virginia Land Surveyor ("Survey Plat"). (Compl., Ex. C thereto.) A legal description of the Permanent Easement is included with the Survey Plat. A copy of the Survey Plat is attached to this Memorandum Opinion as Exhibit No. 1. The terms and conditions of the Permanent Easement are set forth in Exhibit D to the Complaint, a copy of which is attached to this Memorandum Opinion as Exhibit No. 2. The Temporary Easements, comprised of four temporary construction easements and a temporary access road easement, will be used for work related to the construction of the Project. The Temporary Easements are described on the Survey Plat as "Area of Temporary Work Space No. 1, " "Area of Temporary Work Space No. 2, " "Area of Temporary Work Space No. 3, " "Area of Temporary Work Space No. 4, " and "Area of Proposed Access Road AR-SVLB-89.6." The terms and conditions of the four temporary construction easements are set forth in Exhibit E to the Complaint. The terms and conditions of the temporary access road easement are set forth in Exhibit F to the Complaint. Copies of both of these exhibits are attached to this Memorandum Opinion as Exhibits No. 3 and 4, respectively.

4. In the September 2nd Order and Memorandum Opinion, the Court found that all Defendants were properly served, and only one, Constance Watkins, filed an Answer or Notice of Appearance as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 71.1(e). (September 2nd Order at ¶¶ 1-2; Mem. Op. at 5.) The Court overruled Ms. Watkins's objections, however, and deemed her unsworn response to Transco's Preliminary Motions improper. (September 2nd Order at ¶ 1; Mem. Op. at 5-6.) Moreover, the Court ruled that Transco has the substantive legal right to condemn the Temporary Easements pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 717f(h). (September 2nd Order at ¶ 2.) Lastly, the Court found that two owners of the Property, Sylvia Lash Holman and Dora G. James, were no longer entitled to an award of just compensation in this action, as both consented in writing to Transco's acquisition of the easements and received full compensation. ( Id. at ¶ 5.)

5. Pursuant to the September 2nd Order, on September 10, 2014, Transco deposited the sum of $2, 000.00 into the registry of the Court (the "Deposit") as security for the preliminary injunction authorizing Transco to take immediate possession of the Permanent Easement and Temporary Easements. ( See Mem. Supp. Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 73, Ex. B. thereto.)

6. Thus after entry of the September 2nd Order, there remained only two considerations for the Court: (1) determine the just compensation owing to the remaining Defendants for Transco's condemnation of the Permanent Easement and Temporary Easements; and (2) vest legal title to these easements in Transco.

7. On September 12, 2014, Transco filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and Roseboro v. Garrison Notice to any Pro Se Defendants who might respond together with a supporting Brief. Transco's Motion requests that the Court enter summary judgment as a matter of law on the remaining two issues in this case. As no Defendant has responded to Transco's Motion, and because the time for any response has expired, this matter is now ripe for disposition.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

8. Summary judgment must be rendered "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(a). It is the responsibility of the party seeking summary judgment to inform the court of the basis for the motion, and to identify the parts of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

9. "[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). When the motion is properly supported, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and, by citing affidavits or "depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) and 56(e) (1986)). "If a party fails... to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may... consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2).

10. In reviewing a summary judgment motion, the court "must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." US. v. Carolina Transformer Co., 978 F.2d 832, 835 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). Nevertheless, the nonmoving party cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another.'" ...


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