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Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co., LLC v. Permanent Easements For 2.14 Acres and Temporary Easements For 3.59 Acres in Conestoga Township

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 6, 2017

TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
PERMANENT EASEMENTS FOR 2.14 ACRES AND TEMPORARY EASEMENTS FOR 3.59 ACRES IN CONESTOGA TOWNSHIP, LANCASTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA; HILLTOP HOLLOW LIMITED PARTNERSHIP; HILLTOP HOLLOW PARTNERSHIP, LLC GENERAL PARTNER OF HILLTOP HOLLOW LIMITED PARTNERSHIP; and LANCASTER FARMLAND TRUST, Defendants. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
PERMANENT EASEMENT FOR 2.02 ACRES AND TEMPORARY EASEMENTS FOR 2.76 ACRES IN MANOR TOWNSHIP, LANCASTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA; and STEPHEN HOFFMAN, Defendants.

          OPINION PLAINTIFF'S OMNIBUS MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION - DENIED

          JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company, LLC (“Transco”) is involved in a project to operate and construct a natural gas pipeline running through five states, including a portion of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a certificate on February 3, 2017, authorizing the construction and operation of the pipeline. Transco thereafter filed fourteen complaints in condemnation in this Court seeking to acquire the rights-of-way on Defendants' properties. Presently pending in two of these actions is Transco's Omnibus Motion for Preliminary Injunction. For the reasons set forth below, a determination as to whether Transco has a right to condemn, which must be established before the Court may grant injunctive relief, would be premature. Regardless, Transco has failed to show that it will suffer irreparable harm because it may obtain access to Defendants' property to conduct surveys pursuant to 26 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 309. The Omnibus Motion for Preliminary Injunction is denied, but Transco will be granted limited access pursuant to § 309.

         II. Legal Standard - Motion for Preliminary Injunction

         To prevail on a motion for a preliminary injunction, the moving party must show: (1) a likelihood of success on the merits;[1] (2) a likelihood of suffering irreparable harm without the injunction;[2] (3) the balance of equities weighs in the moving party's favor; and (4) the public interest favors the injunction. Winter v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008). The moving party bears the burden of showing that each of these four factors tips in its favor. Ferring Pharm., Inc. v. Watson Pharm., Inc., 765 F.3d 205, 210 (3d Cir. 2014) (“The ‘failure to establish any element . . . renders a preliminary injunction inappropriate.'” (quoting NutraSweet Co. v. Vit-Mar Enters., Inc., 176 F.3d 151, 153 (3d Cir. 1999))). “A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy never awarded as a matter of right, ” Winter, 555 U.S. at 24, and is reserved for “limited circumstances, ” Kos Pharm., Inc. v. Andrx Corp. 369 F.3d 700, 708 (3d Cir. 2004).

         III. Findings of Fact[3]

         “In granting or refusing an interlocutory injunction, the court must . . . state the findings and conclusions that support its action, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a)(2), which requires the court to “find the facts specially and state its conclusions of law separately, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a)(1). While “Rule 52 does not require hyper-literal adherence, ” findings of fact and conclusions of law must be delineated in such a manner that does not leave an appellate court “unable to discern what were [the court's] intended factual findings.” See In re Frescati Shipping Co., 718 F.3d 184, 197 (3d Cir. 2013); see also 9C Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2579 (3d ed. 2008) (“The district court should state separately its findings of fact and conclusions of law without commingling them . . . .”). Accordingly, this Court's findings of facts pertinent to the disposition of Transco's Motion follows.

         1. Transco is an interstate natural gas transmission company that will be the operator of a proposed natural gas pipeline that will cross Defendants' respective properties. Sztroin Decl. ¶¶ 3, 6, ECF No. 6-6 (No. 17-715); Hoffman Aff. ¶¶ 5-7, 11, ECF No. 23 (No. 17-723); Erb Aff. ¶¶ 6-7, ECF No. 30 (No. 17-715); Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co., 158 FERC ¶ 61, 125 (Feb. 3, 2017) (hereinafter FERC Order).

         2. Defendants Stephen and Dorothea Hoffman reside at 3409 Safe Harbor Road, Manor Twp., Millersville, Lancaster County, PA 19551. They own approximately 110 acres and have lived there for approximately 10 years. Hoffman Aff. ¶ 2.

         3. The appraised value of the Hoffmans' property is $13, 970. Pl.'s Hr'g Ex. 17.[4]

         4. Defendants Gary and Michelle Erb, the principals of Defendant Hilltop Hollow Limited Partnership, live at 415 Hilltop Rd., Conestoga Twp., Conestoga, Lancaster County, PA 17516. They own about 72 acres and have lived there for approximately seven years. The Erbs' property is also enrolled in the Lancaster Farmland Trust. Erb Aff. ¶ 2.

         5. The appraised value of the property on Hilltop Road is $23, 570. Pl.'s Hr'g Ex. 17.

         6. Transco's proposed current route for the pipeline crosses both aforementioned properties, running close to their homes. Hoffman Aff. ¶¶ 5-7, 11; Erb Aff. ¶¶ 6-7; FERC Order.

         7. In 2015, Transco submitted an application under section 7(c) of the NGA, seeking a certificate of public convenience and necessity authorizing Transco to construct and operate the pipeline project. FERC Order.

         8. The project involves approximately 199.5 miles of pipeline running through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Sztroin Decl. ¶¶ 3, 6.

         9. FERC issued a certificate on February 3, 2017, authorizing the construction and operation of this pipeline. FERC Order.[5]

         10. Transco entered into a contract with its shippers that requires the project be completed and in service for the 2017-2018 winter heating season, or as soon as commercially practicable ...


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