Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
UGI Sunbury LLC v. Permanent Easement for 1.7575 Acres
UGI builds natural gas pipelines. It obtained authorization to construct and operate an underground pipeline along 34.4 miles of land in Pennsylvania under the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. 717, The Landowners rejected UGI’s offers of compensation for rights of way, so UGI sought orders of condemnation. UGI prevailed; only the amount of compensation remained. The Landowners’ expert set the before-taking value of the land by comparing properties in the area and estimating what each is worth relative to the market but, in estimating the post-taking property values, the expert relied on his own “damaged goods theory,” drawing on his experience working in his grandfather’s appliance shop. The expert cited the impact on real estate values from the Three Mile Island nuclear incident in 1979, the Exxon Valdez Alaskan oil spill in 1989, and assorted leaking underground storage tanks. The expert’s reports contain no data relating to those incidents. The district court agreed “that some form of ‘stigma’ attaches to the property as a whole” and adjusted the awards accordingly. The Third Circuit vacated. Rule 702 requires reliable expert testimony that fits the proceedings. The expert testimony presented by the Landowners bound only to speculation and conjecture, not good science or other “good grounds.” View "UGI Sunbury LLC v. Permanent Easement for 1.7575 Acres" on Justia Law
In re: PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC
The Natural Gas Act (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717, allows private gas companies to exercise the federal government’s power to take property by eminent domain, if the company has a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); was unable to acquire the property by contract or reach agreement about the amount to be paid; and the value of the property exceeds $3,000. PennEast, scheduled to build a pipeline through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, obtained federal approval for the project and filed suit under the NGA to condemn and gain immediate access to properties along the pipeline route, including 42 properties owned, at least in part, by New Jersey or arms of the state. New Jersey sought dismissal, citing the Eleventh Amendment. The district court ruled in favor of PennEast. The Third Circuit vacated. The Eleventh Amendment recognizes that states enjoy sovereign immunity from suits by private parties in federal court. New Jersey has not consented to PennEast’s condemnation suits and its sovereign immunity has not been abrogated by the NGA. The federal government’s power of eminent domain and its power to hale sovereign states into federal court are separate and distinct. In the NGA, Congress has delegated only the power of eminent domain. View "In re: PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC" on Justia Law
Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co., LLC v. Permanent Easements for 2.14 Acres
The Natural Gas Act (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717f(h) gives natural gas companies that hold certificates of public convenience and necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the power of eminent domain but does not provide for “quick take” to permit immediate possession. Transcontinental is building a natural gas pipeline through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina and needed rights of way. Transcontinental met the requirements of section 717f(h). The administrative review leading up to the certificate of public convenience and necessity lasted almost three years and included extensive outreach and public participation and an Environmental Impact Statement. Transcontinental extended written offers of compensation exceeding $3000 to each Landowner, but these offers were not accepted. The Landowners had all participated in the FERC administrative process. Transcontinental, planning to begin construction in fall 2017, filed condemnation suits The district court granted Transcontinental summary judgment, effectively giving it immediate possession, concluding that the Landowners had received “adequate due process.” The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that granting immediate possession violated the separation of powers because eminent domain is a legislative power and the NGA did not grant “quick take.” Transcontinental properly obtained the substantive right to the property by following the statutory requirements, which are not similar to “quick take” procedures, before seeking equitable relief to obtain possession. View "Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co., LLC v. Permanent Easements for 2.14 Acres" on Justia Law
Wayne Land and Mineral Group LLC v. Delaware River Basin Commission
Wayne Land and Mineral Group, wanting to obtain natural gas by fracking reserves, sought a declaratory judgment that an interstate compact does not give the Delaware River Basin Commission authority to review Wayne’s proposal. The district court dismissed the case after determining that Wayne’s proposed activities constituted a “project” subject to the Commission’s oversight, according to the Compact's unambiguous terms. The Third Circuit vacated, concluding that the meaning of the word “project” is ambiguous. The court remanded the case for fact-finding on the intent of the Compact's drafters. The Compact defines “project” as “any work, service or activity which is separately planned, financed, or identified by the [C]ommission, or any separate facility undertaken or to be undertaken within a specified area, for the conservation, utilization, control, development or management of water resources which can be established and utilized independently or as an addition to an existing facility, and can be considered as a separate entity for purposes of evaluation” and requires approval for any project having a substantial effect on the water resources of the Basin. In 2009 the Commission imposed a moratorium on fracking. View "Wayne Land and Mineral Group LLC v. Delaware River Basin Commission" on Justia Law
Estate of Ware v. Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
Jeffrey Ware, Ph.D., was a University of Pennsylvania neuroscientist, studying the effects of radiation on biological organisms with the goal of better understanding how radiation affects astronauts while in orbit. Ware used cesium-137 irradiators to track the effects of low-level radiation on mice and rats. In 2010, Ware suffered a rare form of brain cancer, gliosarcoma. His widow, Boyer, claims gliosarcoma is associated with radiation exposure but produced no expert reports and that Ware’s cancer specifically resulted from radiation exposure that UPenn failed to properly monitor, protect against or warn of. Ware underwent chemotherapy and radiation at the University’s hospital. Boyer alleges that Ware was not given appropriate information about these treatments; that, given the advanced stage of his disease, they provided little benefit; and that a UPenn doctor enrolled Ware in a research study to investigate the effects of chemotherapy and radiation on brain cancer patients without his knowing consent. The Third Circuit affirmed the application of the Price-Anderson Act, 42 U.S.C. 2011, and its remedy-limiting provisions to Boyer's suit. The Act gives federal courts jurisdiction to resolve a broad set of claims involving liability for physical harm arising from nuclear radiation. Boyer’s case is within the Act’s reach. View "Estate of Ware v. Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania" on Justia Law
McMunn v. Babcock & Wilcox Power Generation Group, Inc.
Plaintiffs assert that they developed cancer after being exposed to excessive radiation emissions from the Nuclear Material and Equipment Company’s Apollo, Pennsylvania facility. The district court held that their common-law claims against were preempted by the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act and rejected their Price-Anderson “public liability” claims on summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed. Although the Act preempted common-law negligence claims, the public liability claims require Plaintiffs to prove versions of the traditional negligence elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. With respect to duty, the court noted the restrictions on access to the facility; Plaintiffs did not establish the existence of excessive radiation outside the restricted area. The facility’s license did not establish a tort duty. Even with state-of-the-art data, it is impossible to determine with certainty that radiation is the cause of a given incidence of cancer. Plaintiffs failed to offer evidence from which a jury could find that each plaintiff was exposed to radiation from Defendants’ uranium effluent sufficiently frequently, regularly, and proximately to substantially cause their illnesses. View "McMunn v. Babcock & Wilcox Power Generation Group, Inc." on Justia Law
In re: SemCrude LP
SemGroup purchased oil from producers and resold it to downstream purchasers. It also traded financial options contracts for the right to buy or sell oil at a fixed price on a future date. At the end of the fiscal year preceding bankruptcy, SemGroup’s revenues were $13.2 billion. SemGroup’s operating companies purchased oil from thousands of wells in several states and from thousands of oil producers, including from Appellants, producers in Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. The producers took no actions to protect themselves in case 11 of SemGroup’s insolvency. The downstream purchasers did; in the case of default, they could set off the amount they owed SemGroup for oil by the amount SemGroup would owe them for the value of the outstanding futures trades. When SemGroup filed for bankruptcy, the downstream purchasers were paid in full while the oil producers were paid only in part. The producers argued that local laws gave them automatically perfected security interests or trust rights in the oil that ended up in the hands of the downstream purchasers. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the downstream purchasers; parties who took precautions against insolvency do not act as insurers to those who took none. View "In re: SemCrude LP" on Justia Law
Dela. Riverkeeper Network v. Sec’y Pa. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot.
Transco, which operates the 10,000-mile Transcontinental pipeline, extending from South Texas to New York City, sought federal approval to expand a portion of the pipeline, called the Leidy Line, which connects gas wells in Central Pennsylvania with the main pipeline. Pursuant to the Clean Water Act, the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Departments of Environmental Protection (PADEP; NJDEP) reviewed the proposal for potential water quality impacts and issued permits. Environmental groups challenged the approvals. The Third Circuit concluded that it had jurisdiction to hear the petitions and that NJDEP and PADEP did not act arbitrarily in issuing the permits. To bar review of PADEP’s actions in permitting an interstate natural gas facility pursuant to the Natural Gas Act and the Clean Water Act would frustrate the purpose of Congress’s grant of jurisdiction and render superfluous the explicit exception from federal judicial review of the Coastal Zone Management Act. The court also rejected NJDEP’s arguments that the court had no jurisdiction over the Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permits or the Water Quality Certifications, and even if it had jurisdiction over those authorizations, it could not reach issues regarding aspects of Freshwater Wetlands Individual Permits that concern transition areas and threatened and endangered species, Letters of Interpretation, or Flood Hazard Area Individual Permits. View "Dela. Riverkeeper Network v. Sec'y Pa. Dep't of Envtl. Prot." on Justia Law
Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC v. 1.01 Acres in Penn Twp
Columbia, an interstate natural gas company subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), seeks to replace a portion of a natural gas pipeline that runs in and around York County, Pennsylvania. Because the original location of the pipeline has become heavily populated, the replacement will not track the original line but will be outside the existing right of way. To obtain easements necessary to complete construction of the replacement, in 2013, Columbia filed Complaints in Condemnation against four Landowners in federal court. The district court held that Columbia did not have the right of eminent domain required to condemn the easements, reasoning that 18 C.F.R. 157.202(b)(2)(i), was ambiguous. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that the regulation clearly anticipates replacement outside the existing right of way and contains no adjacency requirement. The district court erroneously adopted its own definition of “replace” and concluded that a “notice” of “proposed rulemaking” for “Emergency Reconstruction of Interstate Natural Gas Facilities” promulgated by FERC after 9/11 was relevant.View "Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC v. 1.01 Acres in Penn Twp" on Justia Law
Metro. Edison Co. v. PA Pub. Util. Co.
The Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 791a., authorizes federal regulation of transmitting and selling electric power in interstate commerce and grants the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) jurisdiction over transmission of electric energy in interstate commerce and sale of such energy at wholesale in interstate commerce. The “filed rate doctrine” requires that interstate power rates filed with or fixed by FERC be given binding effect by state utility commissions determining intrastate rates. The electric companies suffered $250 million in “line losses,” energy lost when electricity travels over power lines, and interest related to those costs. Their line losses had increased under a mandate by FERC relating to calculation. The companies attempted to recover those costs on their customers’ utility bills. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) rejected their proposal to classify line-loss costs as a cost of transmission (as opposed to a cost of electricity generation), preventing them from passing those costs through to their customers. The companies lost in Pennsylvania state courts; the U.S. Supreme Court denied review. The companies then sought declaratory judgment and injunctive relief in federal court against the PUC. The district court held that their unsuccessful state efforts precluded relief in federal court under the doctrine of issue preclusion. The Third Circuit affirmed.View "Metro. Edison Co. v. PA Pub. Util. Co." on Justia Law