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MOBIL PIPE LINE COMPANY v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (10/08/81)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: October 8, 1981.

MOBIL PIPE LINE COMPANY, PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL RESOURCES, RESPONDENT. MELE CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, INC., PETITIONER V. COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL RESOURCES, RESPONDENT

Appeals from the Order of the Environmental Hearing Board in the case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Environmental Resources v. Mele Construction Co., Inc., Mobil Pipe Line Co. and Lower Lackawanna Valley Sanitary Authority, No. 76-044-CP-W.

COUNSEL

Ralph G. Wellington, with him Carl A. Salano, Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis, for petitioner, Mobil Pipe Line Company.

Thomas M. Hart, for petitioner, Mele Construction Company, Inc.

Donald A. Brown, Assistant Attorney General, for respondent.

Judges Mencer, Craig and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Mencer.

Author: Mencer

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 146]

These consolidated appeals have been brought from an order of the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB)

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 147]

    imposing civil penalties on Mele Construction Company, Inc. (Mele), in the amount of $3,500, and Mobil Pipe Line Company (Mobil), in the amount of $5,000, for violating Sections 301 and 307 of The Clean Streams Law (Act),*fn1 Act of June 22, 1937, P.L. 1987, as amended, 35 P.S. §§ 691.301, .307, and regulations of the Department of Environmental Resources (Department). We affirm the EHB's order as it pertains to Mele but reverse as it pertains to Mobil.

This case arose from the accidental discharge, on October 3, 1975, of approximately 98,500 gallons of gasoline into the Lackawanna River from an 8-inch pressure gasoline pipeline in Moosic Borough, Lackawanna

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 148]

County. The pipeline has been owned and operated by Mobil since its construction in 1947 or 1948. In 1971, the Lower Lackawanna Valley Sanitary Authority (Authority) contacted Mobil regarding the crossing of its pipeline by the Authority's proposed sewer line beneath the river. Mobil consented to the crossing, on the condition that it receive prior notification of any construction activity near the pipeline, in order that it might provide personnel to locate the pipeline and supervise excavation near it. The Authority agreed.

In April 1975, Mobil preliminarily located and staked the path of the pipeline for the Authority's engineers and contractors. At that time, it was determined that the pipeline did not traverse the river in a straight line but made an abrupt turn under the river several feet from its east bank. In May 1975, Mobil was notified that Mele, the Authority's contractor, would be engaged in construction activity in the area of the pipeline. During those times when Mele was engaged in installing the sewer line underneath the gasoline pipeline, Mobil maintained a supervisor at the construction site, during all working hours, who supervised the excavation in the area of Mobil's pipeline. Locating and uncovering the pipeline was completed by hand under Mobil's supervision. The EHB determined that the Mobil pipeline was between 2 and 3 feet below the bottom of the riverbed. Mobil's supervisor remained on the site to supervise the excavation for 5 days, until May 21, 1975.

While laying the sewer line, Mele inadvertently knocked some protective coating off the gasoline pipeline. This accident required that an additional section of pipeline be exposed in order to repair it. A 10-to-15-foot section of the pipeline was exposed to restore the coating. That portion of the pipeline

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 149]

    which was uncovered disclosed the bend in the line near the east bank of the river. Mr. Sam Mele, the superintendent of Mele, was present when that section of the pipeline was exposed and the bend in the line was visible to Mele employees. Before leaving the construction site on May 21, 1975, Mobil's supervisor asked Mr. Mele to contact Mobil if Mele intended to do any further work in the area of the pipeline, since it was highly pressurized and therefore dangerous.

On October 3, 1975, an employee of Mele was operating a backhoe in the area of the pipeline. He was performing surface restoration work which included dressing and grading the riverbank. Mobil did not have a supervisor at the construction site during the surface restoration work because it was not notified that any work was to take place in the area of the pipeline. The backhoe struck the pipeline, causing it to rupture. The backhoe operator stated that he did not know the pipeline was there.

At the time the accident occurred, a permanent marker on the east shore of the Lackawanna River indicated the location of the pipeline in the vicinity. There was also a permanent marker on the west side of the river which was visible from the scene of the accident. Evidence in the record discloses that the markers were attached to posts extending approximately 3 feet from the ground and included the words "Warning Petroleum Pipeline." The markers were approximately 12 inches long by 7 inches high and included a toll-free number with which to contact Mobil. The existence and location of those permanent pipeline markers were known to Mele and were visible to its agents and employees on the date of the rupture. There was also a third permanent marker on a nearby Turnpike bridge abutment which was visible from the scene of the accident.

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 150]

Mobil originally put a permanent marker in the river at the bend in the pipeline in April 1975. The EHB concluded that this marker may have been moved or otherwise destroyed by Hurricane Eloise, which caused high water and flooding on September 30, 1975. Mobil further staked out the pipeline in May 1975 using wooden stakes driven into the sand of the riverbanks. These, however, were not in place on the date of the accident. Mobil discovered the rupture during a regularly conducted inspection flight over the pipeline route. Mele concurrently notified Mobil of the accident. Within a few hours after the rupture, Mobil attempted to turn off the gasoline to the ruptured pipeline by turning two valves which were located at 1 and 3 miles from the rupture. Gasoline, however, continued to flow into the river for several hours after the line was shut off. The pipeline was operational the following day, and all repair work was completed by October 10, 1975.

The EHB concluded that Mele violated the Act by causing the discharge of the gasoline into the river. Mele's negligence was based upon its knowledge of the location and path of the pipeline and upon its failure to notify Mobil of its work near the area of the pipeline on October 3, 1975. The EHB concluded that Mobil violated the Act by permitting, through its negligence, the discharge and continuing discharge of gasoline into the river. Mobil's liability was based upon the EHB's determination that it failed to comply with federal regulations governing the transportation of hazardous substances through pipelines.

In this appeal, Mele contends that several of the EHB's findings of fact are unsupported by substantial evidence and were, therefore, improperly relied upon by the EHB in reaching its conclusions of law. Mobil contends that the EHB erred in determining that it failed to comply with United States Department of

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 151]

Transportation regulations concerning the transportation of liquids by pipeline. We reject Mele's contention but agree with Mobil's contention.

I

Mele contends that several of the EHB's findings of fact are unsupported by substantial evidence. This contention is without merit. Findings of fact 10 and 13 are essentially identical to stipulated facts 11 and 14. Mele may not now contend that facts to which it stipulated are unsupported by substantial evidence.

Mele takes issue with finding of fact 17 because it states that a Mele employee admitted to having "hooked" into the gasoline pipeline. This finding is amply supported by the testimony of Mr. Leonard C. Insalaco, a water quality specialist with the Department who spoke with three Mele workmen at the scene of the accident. Mele, moreover, does not dispute that it struck the pipeline and thereby caused the rupture. Mele's negligence stems, in large measure, from its failure to notify Mobil before resuming excavation in the area of the pipeline.*fn2 The manner in which the

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 152]

    rupture occurred, whether by hooking, crushing, or otherwise, does not obviate Mele's liability.*fn3

Mele argues that finding of fact 34*fn4 is unsupported because of testimony that the marker was removed by excavation in June 1975. Mele relies on the testimony

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 153]

    of Mr. Charles Tietsworth, a Mobil pipeliner, to support this contention. Mr. Tietsworth stated that a permanent marker was placed at the bend in the pipeline when Mobil originally staked the line in April 1975 and that it was put back after all the work was done. Evidence in the record is not inconsistent with the EHB's finding that Hurricane Eloise may have removed or otherwise destroyed a permanent marker of the bend in the pipeline. In any event, the absence of the marker cannot absolve Mele of liability because it had actual knowledge of the location of the bend in the pipeline, stemming from direct observation.

Mele contends that finding of fact 36,*fn5 which states that the marker placed on October 10, 1975 was "in the river," is improper because of evidence indicating that it was "in the riverbank." However, the exact location of a marker placed 7 days after the accident which caused the rupture is without significance as to Mele's negligent conduct on October 3, 1975.

Finally, Mele takes issue with finding of fact 38*fn6 that the gasoline pipeline was between 2 and 3 feet below the bottom of the riverbed. There is, however, substantial evidence in the record to support that finding. Mr. Insalaco also testified that he did not think that the pipeline "was any more than two to three feet below the bed of the river at most." While there was conflicting testimony concerning the depth of the gasoline pipeline, it was within the EHB's discretion to accept the testimony that it determined to be most credible.

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 154]

The findings of fact which Mele now challenges are either acknowledged, undisputed, or supported by substantial evidence. Since those findings are consistent with the EHB's conclusion that Mele violated the Act, we cannot reverse the EHB's adjudication as to Mele.

II

Mobil argues that the EHB erroneously concluded that it failed to comply with United States Department of Transportation regulations governing the transportation of liquids by pipeline, found at 49 C.F.R. § 195.248 (1975), pertaining to pipeline depth, 49 C.F.R. § 195.260 (1975), pertaining to pipeline valves, and 49 C.F.R. § 195.410 (1975), pertaining to pipeline markers.*fn7 We agree. While the EHB carefully

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 155]

    refrained from deciding whether Mobil violated those regulations, it clearly applied the requirements they enunciate to Mobil's pipeline and relied solely upon that application to find Mobil liable for negligent conduct under the Act. This was error.

The regulations in question were first issued on October 4, 1969 and, since that time, have been periodically updated and reissued. Subpart D of Part 195, Section 195.200 et seq., is entitled "Construction." It

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 156]

    is the subpart which contains two of the regulations, 49 C.F.R. §§ 195.248 and 195.260, with which the EHB found Mobil not to be in compliance. Section 195.200*fn8 outlines the scope of the entire subpart and makes it clear that was intended to apply only to pipeline constructed, relocated, replaced, or changed after October 4, 1969. Mobil's pipeline was constructed in 1947 or 1948 and last relocated in 1954. The language of the subpart title and its scope section indicates that the

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 157]

    regulations contained in the subpart were not designed to automatically and retroactively render all pipelines constructed prior to 1969 in violation thereof. Such a construction would be extreme. The federal regulations, in Subpart D, relied upon by the EHB to impose liability on Mobil, do not define a standard of care with which Mobil was required to comply in this instance.

The EHB also indicated that Mobil failed to comply with 49 C.F.R. § 195.410 (1975), pertaining to the location and requirements of pipeline markers. The permanent markers on the east and west shores of the river did, however, comply with all material requirements of that regulation. Evidence in the record shows that the markers stated, "Warning," in large white letters set against a red background and, directly beneath that, "Petroleum Pipeline," in white letters set against a blue background. They included a toll-free number with which to contact Mobil and gave the complete name of the pipeline operator. Although the markers did not contain the words "Do not anchor or dredge," that requirement is not material here.

The record is replete with evidence of Mobil's efforts to stake and restake the pipeline path with temporary and permanent markers, in addition to the markers required to satisfy the federal regulation. Those efforts provided Mele with actual notice of the exact path of the pipeline and of the location of the bend in the line. The strictest compliance with the federal regulation could not have achieved more adequate notice. The accident of October 3, 1975 was, moreover, not caused by anchoring or dredging but by surface restoration work. Absolute compliance with the regulation, therefore, would not have warned against or prevented the type of work which caused the accident. Furthermore, the violation of a statute or regulation will not create liability unless that violation

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 158]

    is the efficient cause of the injury. Snyder v. Macaluso, 204 F. Supp. 370 (W.D. Pa. 1962).

In its decision, the EHB opined that Mobil should have inspected its pipeline within two days of Hurricane Eloise on September 30, 1975 to determine whether its marker at the pipeline bend was still in place. Despite its heavy reliance on federal regulations, the EHB ignored the requirements pertaining to the monitoring and inspection of pipeline embodied in 49 C.F.R. § 195.412 (1975).*fn9 The record reveals that Mobil complied fully with the standard of care created by the applicable federal regulation. Mobil was, in fact, conducting a regular 2-week right-of-way inspection of its pipeline when the accident occurred. Mobil clearly complied with those federal regulations which did apply to its pipeline.

The Department urges that, even if Mobil was not negligent, it should be liable because there is no need to find intent, fault, or negligence to establish a violation of Section 301 or 307 of the Act. The Department contends that Mobil permitted the discharge of an industrial waste into the river within the meaning of the Act and is, therefore, absolutely liable. We may not consider that contention. The Department did not plead absolute liability in its complaint, nor did it argue such a theory of liability before the EHB. It is well established that a theory of recovery suggested for the first time on appeal may not be considered. Pegg v. General Motors Corp., 258 Pa. Superior Ct. 59, 391 A.2d 1074 (1978).

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 159]

Accordingly, we enter the following

Order

And Now, this 8th day of October, 1981, that portion of the order of the Environmental Hearing Board, dated July 2, 1980, imposing a civil penalty pursuant to Section 605 of The Clean Streams Law, Act of June 22, 1937, P.L. 1987, as amended, 35 P.S. § 691.605, on Mele Construction Company, Inc., in the amount of $3,500, is hereby affirmed; the portion of the order imposing a civil penalty on Mobil Pipe Line Company, in the amount of $5,000, is hereby reversed.

Disposition

Affirmed in part and reversed in part.


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