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Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC v. Vlahos

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

March 4, 2015


For Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC, Plaintiff: Gregory Joseph Sagstetter, LEAD ATTORNEY, Reed Smith LLP (Falls Church), Falls Church, VA; Travis Aaron Sabalewski, LEAD ATTORNEY, Reed Smith LLP, Richmond, VA; Alison Ross Wickizer Toepp, Reed Smith LLP, Richmond, VA.

Brian A. Vlahos, Defendant, Pro se, Richmond, VA.


James R. Spencer, Senior United States District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment (" Motion" ) filed by Plaintiff Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC (" Columbia" ). ECF No. 22. Defendant Brian A. Vlahos (" Vlahos" ) opposes the Motion. ECF No. 24. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Columbia's Motion. ECF No. 22.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The facts of this case are straightforward, especially since the parties filed detailed stipulations of fact. See ECF No. 20. In sum, Columbia brings this action, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, against Vlahos relating to a fence he built on a right-of-way easement for an underground natural gas pipeline.

Columbia is a limited liability company, the sole member of which is Columbia Energy Group, Inc. (" CEG" ). ECF No. 23 at 2, 1. Vlahos, an individual, purchased, currently owns, and presently resides on real property located at 606 Wishart Circle, Richmond, Virginia 23229 (" property" ). Id. at 3, 3-4. Vlahos purchased this property by a warranty deed, which was recorded May 29, 2009 in the land records of Henrico County, Virginia. Id. at 3, 5-7. Pursuant to this deed, the property was purchased " subject to conditions, restrictions, reservations and easements of record," including two right-of-way (" ROW" ) agreements. Id. at 3, 8-9; see ECF No. 20 at 2-5.

The first right-of-way agreement, dated July 6, 1950 (" 1950 ROW" ), granted an easement on the property to Commonwealth Natural Gas Corporation (" Commonwealth Natural" ) from G.T. Carter and Gertrude Carter. Id. at 4, 14. The 1950 ROW stated

[that Commonwealth Natural] its successors, and assigns, [shall have] the right to lay, maintain, operate and remove a pipe line, or pipe lines, for the transportation of gas, oil, petroleum products, or any other liquids, gases or substances which can be transported through a pipe line.

Id. at 4, 17. Furthermore, it provided Commonwealth Natural with " the right of ingress and egress to, from and through" the property subject to the easement and " the right at any time to lay additional lines of pipe approximately parallel to the first line herein provided, upon the payment of the price above mentioned for each additional line." Id. It further provided " that the gas line to be laid . . . shall be constructed and maintained below cultivation, so that Grantors may fully use and enjoy the premises, subject to the rights of the Grantee to maintain and operate said line or lines." Id. at 6, 30. On August 5, 1950, the 1950 ROW was recorded among the land records of Henrico County. Id. at 4, 16. The second right-of-way agreement, dated December 11, 1951 (" 1951 ROW" ), granted a fifty-foot wide easement, which crosses what is now Vlahos' property. The 1951 ROW reaffirms the 1950 ROW in terms of language and adds that " Grantee further agrees said R/W is to be 50'ft . . . ." Id. at 5, 21. The 1951 ROW was recorded on January 7, 1952 in the land records of Henrico County, Virginia. Id. at 5, 22. Collectively, the 1950 and 1951 ROWs create a fifty-foot wide easement on the property and dub Columbia and Vlahos as successors-in-interest to the grantees and grantors, respectively, of the 1950 and 1951 ROWs. Id. at 5-6, 24-29. Since purchasing the property, Vlahos has constructed and maintained a fence. ECF No. 24 at 2 1-2; see ECF No. 20 at 5, 41 (" A fence ('Fence') on the Property is located within the Easement area (the 'Fenced Area'), however, the Fence is not located on top of the Pipeline." ). Thus, the fifty-foot wide easement is divided by the fence on the property. Running across the property is a high-pressure natural gas transmission pipeline-the Line VM 112 (" pipeline" )-which is maintained and operated by Columbia. Id. at 6, 34o Installed in 1951, the pipeline was constructed below cultivation on the property and within the easement. Id. at 6-7, 37-38.

On March 5, 2014, Columbia filed suit against Vlahos in this Court, claiming that the above-ground fence is an encroachment. Columbia contends that this fence impairs its ability to maintain and operate its pipeline in a safe and effective manner, thereby posing a risk to person, property, and the uninterrupted delivery of natural gas to the Richmond area of Virginia. Despite Columbia's demand, Vlahos refused to remove the fence. This suit followed, in which Columbia requests that this Court find that the fence breaches the 1950 and 1951 ROWs and order its removal.

On January 12, 2015, Columbia filed the instant Motion. ECF No. 22. On February 2, 2015, Vlahos filed his response. ECF No. 24. Columbia subsequently filed its reply on February 5, 2015. ECF No. 25.

II. Legal Standard

A. Summary Judgment

The Fourth Circuit has held that " [W]e are always obliged to construe liberally the contentions being pursued by pro se parties." Sinclair v. Mobile 360, Inc., 417 F.App'x 235, 243 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978)). In short, therefore, " we impose on pro se litigants-even those who may be cantankerous or make extraneous and inappropriate assertions against their opponents or the court-'less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted ...

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