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Robbins v. Dominion Transmission, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 13, 2013



JAMES M. MUNLEY, District Judge.

Before the court for disposition is Defendant Dominion Transmission Inc.'s motion for judgment on the pleadings and request for judicial notice. The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.


According to the plaintiffs' amended complaint, the background facts are as follows: Plaintiffs own real property located at 1432 Tower Hill Road, Tioga, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 14, First Am. Compl. at § 4). Defendant is the owner and operator of several underground gas storage fields in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. (Id. §§ 7-10). Included in their operations are fields known as the Meeker Field and the Tioga Field. (Id.) Defendant has stored, and continues to store, natural gas in or under plaintiffs' real estate and on the Meeker and Tioga fields which are adjacent to the plaintiffs' real estate. (Id. at §§ 11-14).

Pennsylvania law contemplates the existence of "buffer zones" around underground storage fields. See 58 PENN. STAT. § 602.101 et seq. Natural gas cannot be practically extracted from land within the buffer zone of an underground gas storage field. (Id. § 18). All or part of plaintiff's real property is located within buffer zones of defendant's underground storage facilities. (Id. § 19). Thus, plaintiffs are prevented from entering into a commercially reasonable lease or other agreement for the exploration, extraction and collection of natural gas deposits located on their property. (Id. § 20). Additionally, the defendant's gas storage operations have led to the contamination of plaintiffs' property and groundwater supply with heavy metal contamination, including arsenic. (Id. §§ 22-23).

Plaintiffs instituted this action by filing a complaint on June 10, 2010 in the Court of Common Pleas of Tioga County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1-2). Defendant removed the case to this court on July 6, 2010. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on October 4, 2010. The amended complaint contained various federal law and state law claims. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, and the court dismissed all causes of action except for Count XIII a "taking" claim based upon the Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Code. (Doc. 19).

Subsequently, defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings and judicial notice. (Doc. 32). The parties requested that the court stay the decision on this motion because plaintiffs had filed a related case against UGI Storage and/or Utilities/Central Penn Gas ("UGI"). This case alleged basically the same causes of action against UGI that plaintiffs had asserted against defendant in the instant case. The resolution of the UGI case could affect the outcome of the pending motion as defendant alleged that UGI actually owned one of the gas storage fields involved in this case and is the co-owner, along with defendant, of the other field. (Doc. 39, Stipulated Mot. To Continue Consideration § 2). The court granted the stay of the motion. (Doc. 40).

This court dismissed the action involving UGI on September 24, 2012. (See Robbins & Robbins v. UGI, No. 3:12cv626 (M.D. Pa. 2012), Doc. 10). The parties then moved to lift the stay in this case, which the court granted on November 15, 2012. (Doc. 42). The parties then completed briefing the issues and the matter is now ripe for disposition.


The parties assert this court's diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The plaintiffs are citizens of Pennsylvania, and the defendant is a Delaware corporation with a principal place of business in Clarksburg, West Virginia. (Doc. 1, Not. of Removal §§ 3, 4). Because we sit in diversity, the substantive law of Pennsylvania shall apply to the instant case. Chamberlain v. Giampapa , 210 F.3d 154, 158 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Erie R.R. v. Tompkins , 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)).

Standard of review

Rule 19 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure specifies the circumstances when joinder of a party is compulsory. A defendant may move to dismiss a complaint for plaintiff's failure to join a party in accordance with Rule 19. See FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(7). Courts considering a motion pertaining to Rule 19 follow a multi-step inquiry. See Gen. Refractories Co. v. First State Ins. Co. , 500 F.3d 306, 312 (3d Cir. 2007); Janney Montgomery Scott, Inc. v. Shepard Niles, Inc. , 11 F.3d 399, 404 (3d Cir. 1993). The reviewing court must first determine whether the absent party "should be joined as [a] necessary' part[y] under Rule 19(a)." Gen. Refractories Co. , 500 F.3d at 312. Rule 19(a) provides:

A person who is subject to service of process and whose joinder will not deprive the court of subject-matter jurisdiction must be joined as a party if: (A) in that person's absence, the court cannot accord complete relief among existing parties; or (B) that person claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that disposing of the action in the person's absence may: (i) as a practical matter impair or impede the person's ability to protect the interest; or (ii) leave an existing ...

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