OPINION AND ORDER
SARGUS, District Judge.
Plaintiff, Columbia Gas Transmission Corporation ("Columbia Gas") brings this action against Goldie Davis ("Davis") seeking equitable
This matter was tried to the Court on April 20, 1998. For the reasons that follow, judgment is rendered in favor of the plaintiff against the defendant.
The parties agree that the jurisdiction of this Court is invoked under both 28 U.S.C. § 1331, federal question jurisdiction, and 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), diversity jurisdiction. Federal question jurisdiction is properly invoked under both the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. § 171, et seq. and the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. § 60101, et seq. The Court also finds that diversity jurisdiction is properly invoked given the fact that Columbia Gas is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in West Virginia. The defendant is a resident of Ohio, and the amount in controversy exceeds $50,000.
While the parties do not dispute either basis of jurisdiction, the defendant does not concede that the amount in controversy exceeds $50,000.
The Court finds that the potential interference with the safe and sound maintenance of such pipeline caused by an encroachment within 12 feet of the pipeline, as further described below, satisfies the requirement under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c) that the amount in controversy exceeds $50,000.
A number of salient facts in this case have been stipulated by the parties. On April 14, 1996, Goldie Davis purchased certain real estate located in the Township of Barlow, Washington, County, Ohio and described as Lot No. 8 in Barlow Heights First Addition. The defendant paid the sum of $24,000 for the real property.
The Connecting Gas Company subsequently assigned the right of way to the Ohio Fuel Gas Company. Thereafter, the Ohio Fuel Gas Company merged with plaintiff Columbia Gas. The parties agree that Columbia Gas has become the owner of all the rights, title, and interest conveyed by R.F. Cunningham to the Connecting Gas Company in 1902.
After Davis purchased the real property in April of 1996, she decided to remove an older garage on the property and install a new structure. The parties do not dispute that the actual location of the gas transmission pipeline beneath Davis' property is clearly marked by above-ground plastic pipe markers approximately five feet tall. Three of such markers are actually on the defendant's real estate. While the markers note the location of the pipeline and include a reference to the plaintiff's toll free phone number, no representation is made as to the width of the easement claimed by Columbia Gas.
Davis hired a contractor to build a new garage. As seen from the photographs admitted into evidence as Plaintiff's Exhibit 1, the structure is a one car garage built on blocks resting on concrete footers.
Prior to the commencement of construction, neither Davis nor her contractor complied with O.R.C. § 3781.25, et seq., known as the One Call Utility Protection Service Act. Under this Act, both owners and contractors are required to notify a state authorized protection service that excavation will begin with respect to a building project. If such notification is made, the various operators of underground utilities, such as Columbia Gas, are made aware of the proposed excavation. According to the testimony of Dan Webb, Southern District Superintendent for Columbia Gas, once such notification is received, the plaintiff dispatches an employee to inspect sites prior to commencement of excavation.
After the excavation began on July 26, 1996, James Lyons, a representative of Columbia Gas, met with the defendant and advised her that the new garage encroached upon the right of way. At the time of this meeting, the concrete footers had been poured, but no blocks had been laid. The defendant contacted her counsel, who then discussed the matter, unsuccessfully, with representatives of the plaintiff. No agreement was reached; the new garage was subsequently completed.
While the parties agree as to the foregoing, they sharply disagree as to the precise dimensions of the right of way held by Columbia Gas. In the absence of any specific dimensions contained in the grant of the right of way, Columbia Gas acknowledges that it must establish the need for a minimum width of 25 feet on either side of the pipeline as a distance necessary for it to safely enjoy its right of way.
In support of its claim, Columbia Gas has offered the testimony of Joel Burris and Dan Webb, both long time employees of Columbia Gas with substantial expertise in the gas transmission industry. Both witnesses testified that Columbia Gas must have free and clear access to the pipeline in question by maintaining an area of at least 25 feet on each side of the line free and clear of buildings and structures. According to Dan Webb, an area of 25 feet on each side of the pipeline is an accepted industry standard. Further, certain required safety tests, including a side drain test, are difficult, if not impossible, to perform if structures encroach within 25 feet of the line.
Webb also testified that in the event of a pipeline leak, migrating gas could escape into
Further, Webb testified that the original pipeline placed on the same real property in 1902 would have required a team of horses and a large number of employees. According to Webb, the amount of space necessary for the installation and maintenance of a pipeline in 1902 would have been substantially greater than the 25 feet right of way on each side of the pipeline now claimed by Columbia Gas.
The defendant offered the testimony of Cyrus Bowen, who has worked on pipelines for over 30 years. Currently, Bowen is under contract to repair gas lines owned and operated by the East Ohio Gas Company. In Bowen's view, the garage itself would not be a hindrance if leaks occurred in the vicinity. According to Bowen, a repair crew could simply make use of the opposite side of the pipeline to deposit spoil or otherwise operate equipment.
Bowen acknowledged that his opinion was based on the fact that no structures or obstructions were present on the outside of the line opposite the garage. If other structures encroached upon the area claimed by Columbia Gas, the plaintiff would be impeded in its response to a gas leakage or other type of emergency. Finally, Bowen admitted that he had never before worked on a transmission line of the size involved in this case.
From the testimony adduced at trial, the Court is satisfied that Columbia Gas has established a need for a 25-foot area on either side of the gas transmission line to be free and clear of permanent structures. Further, a number of cases involving this precise issue reach the same conclusion. Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. v. Tarbuck, 62 F.3d 538 (3d Cir.1995), Swango Homes, Inc. v. Columbia Gas Transmission Corp., 806 F.Supp. 180 (S.D.Ohio 1992), Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. v. Burke, 768 F.Supp. 1167 (N.D.West Virginia 1990).
While a precise description of the dimensions and metes and bounds of the easement would have more clearly expressed the intentions of the parties, in the absence of such precision, the Court must define the scope of the easement by what is reasonably necessary to accomplish the purpose of the grant. Rueckel v. Texas Eastern Transmission Corp., 3 Ohio App.3d 153, 444 N.E.2d 77 (1981). Given the obligations imposed upon the plaintiff by the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. § 60101, et seq., and the Court's concern for the safety of the defendant, as well as plaintiff's employees, and the public, the scope of the easement claimed by the plaintiff is justifiable. The Court therefore concludes that Columbia Gas is entitled to a right of way consisting of 25 feet on either side of the pipeline.
Having established their right to a 25-foot right of way on either side of the pipeline, plaintiff seeks an injunction from this Court compelling the removal of the garage erected by Goldie Davis. The fact that Columbia Gas has established its legal right as to the dimensions of the easement does not conclude the analysis. As the Supreme Court has noted in Weinberger v. Romero-Barcelo, 456 U.S. 305, 312, 102 S.Ct. 1798, 72 L.Ed.2d 91 (1982):
It is unfortunate, in the Court's view, that this matter could not have been resolved short of trial on the merits. As previously found by this Court, Columbia Gas has a compelling interest in maintaining its pipeline free and clear of any structures or obstacles within 25 feet of such line. At the same time, prior to this opinion, no determination had been made as to the dimensions of the plaintiff's easement. While such indefiniteness of the dimensions would, in the abstract, be a consideration in the defendant's favor, the Court must also consider the fact that the defendant and her contractor failed to comply with the One Call Utility Protection Service Act, O.R.C. § 3781.25, et seq. Had the defendant notified a state authorized protection service, the parties in this case would have recognized their disagreement prior to the commencement of construction.
The Court is also cognizant of the fact that the real property in question is the residence of the defendant, who recently purchased the property for $24,000. It is without question that the new garage constitutes a substantial addition and improvement in the value of the real property.
In consideration of the foregoing, it is the
Further, either party may submit to this Court and serve upon opposing counsel an additional, proposed Order consistent with this Opinion and Order and suitable for recording with the Washington County Recorder's Office.