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Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. v. Tarbuck

filed: August 9, 1995.

COLUMBIA GAS TRANSMISSION CORPORATION
v.
MICHAEL D. TARBUCK, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. (D.C. Civil No. 93-cv-02112).

Before: Hutchinson, Roth and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Garth

Opinion OF THE COURT

GARTH, Circuit Judge :

Michael Tarbuck appeals the district court's order of October 14, 1994, which permanently enjoined Tarbuck from encroaching on rights of way owned by Columbia Gas Transmission Corporation. Tarbuck argues that the amount in controversy between Columbia and himself does not exceed $50,000 as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

The district court found that Columbia owned two fifty foot rights of way over Tarbuck's property and that it would cost Tarbuck $4,000 to remove the overburden which had been placed by Tarbuck on the rights of way. Tarbuck argues that $4,000 is the amount in controversy. The Supreme Court's decision in Glenwood Light Co. v. Mutual Light Co., 239 U.S. 121, 60 L. Ed. 174, 36 S. Ct. 30 (1915), however, settled that in diversity suits for injunctions the cost of compliance is not the definitive measure of the amount in controversy. Rather, we measure the amount in controversy by the value of the rights which the plaintiff seeks to protect.

Because the value to Columbia of protecting the rights of way by this action is alleged to be in excess of the jurisdictional minimum and the actual value to Columbia is not legally certain to be less than the jurisdictional threshold, we conclude that federal jurisdiction exists. Accordingly, we will affirm the district court's judgment in favor of Columbia. In doing so, we hold that the district court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 and that Columbia's rights of way are indeed fifty feet wide.

I.

Michael Tarbuck owns two parcels of land adjacent to Route 19 in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Pursuant to two separate deeds, Columbia owns rights of way across the parcels to operate a twenty inch natural gas pipeline. In December 1993, Columbia sought a preliminary and a permanent injunction, requiring Tarbuck to remove the overburden on the rights of way (i.e. the three to six feet of excess topsoil which Tarbuck placed on Columbia's rights of way). Columbia also sought an order preventing Tarbuck from placing any further topsoil on the easements.

In his answer, Tarbuck denied any encroachment, denied that Columbia's right of way was fifty feet in width, and claimed that the district court lacked jurisdiction because the amount in controversy did not exceed $50,000.

To sustain its claim to diversity jurisdiction,*fn1 Columbia introduced the following evidence which the district court accepted. Columbia engineers testified that the overburden placed additional pressure on the pipe which could result in a possible rupture. Further, the engineers testified that the overburden interfered with instruments used in periodic federally mandated inspections of the protective coating of the pipeline. The district court recognized that if the pipeline were to leak, the escaping gas could migrate to a nearby building or a nearby road and explode, causing significant personal and property damage. The district court also concluded that Columbia was presently violating the applicable federal regulations and thus could not continue to operate the pipeline under these conditions indefinitely.

The district court also determined the following. It would cost approximately $4,000 for Tarbuck to remove the excess cover. Alternatively, it would cost Columbia $100,000 to raise the pipe to the appropriate level within the existing right of way or $1,000,000 to relocate the pipeline to different property. Neither party presented any evidence as to the value of the rights of way nor the value of Tarbuck's land whether or not burdened by the rights of way.

Based on these facts, the district court concluded that the amount in controversy exceeded $50,000. It further concluded that Tarbuck had encroached on the rights of way by placing additional topsoil over the pipeline and entered a permanent injunction requiring the removal of the overburden.

Turning to the width of the rights of way, the district court found that Columbia's predecessor in interest obtained the easements in the 1940s by two deeds. While one deed expressly provided for a ...


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