United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
DAVID V. RAUTERKUS and MARIA RAUTERKUS, Plaintiffs,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, by and through SONNY PERDUE, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Department of Agriculture; NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE; and DENISE COLEMAN, in her official capacity as State Conservationist for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Defendants.
Motion for Preliminary injunction
MEMORANDUM OPINION WITH FINDINGS OF FACT AND
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Paradise Baxter, District Judge
before this Court is Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary
injunction. ECF No. 6.
David and Maria Rauterkus, owners of real property, initiated
this civil action by filing a complaint for declaratory and
injunctive relief. ECF No. 1. As Defendants to this action,
Plaintiffs name the United States of America by and through
Sonny Perdue, in his official capacity as the Secretary of
the Department of Agriculture; the Natural Resources
Conservation Service ("NRCS"); and Denise Coleman
in his official capacity as State Conservationist with the
case arises out of a voluntary easement executed between the
Rauterkuses and the United States pursuant to the federal
Wetland Reserve Program. After the Easement was signed,
differences arose between the parties as to the type and
scope of the conservation activities that were to occur on
the property. Plaintiffs raise four separate legal
claims: Counts I and II arise out of § 706
of the Administrative Procedures Act, Count III arises out of
the Quiet Title Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2409a, and Count IV is
a claim of anticipatory trespass.
complaint, along with a motion for temporary restraining
order/preliminary injunction, was filed on August 23, 2019.
Construction relative to the restoration and management
activities provided for under the Easement was scheduled to
begin on August 26, 2019. Because the undersigned was
unavailable, the motion for temporary restraining order was
assigned to Judge Marilyn Horan who granted the temporary
restraining order as she concluded that "Plaintiffs
would suffer irreparable harm, loss and injury" if
"the construction on the property is permitted to
commence." ECF No. 16. Judge Horan then scheduled an
evidentiary hearing for September 3, 2019. Id. The
parties requested an extension of time to prepare for the
evidentiary hearing and that request was granted. By Consent
of the parties, the undersigned issued an extension of the
temporary restraining order until November 1, 2019.
See ECF No. 31.
motion for preliminary injunction seeks to have this Court
issue a preliminary injunction "with regard to all
restoration, protection, enhancement, maintenance, and
management actions and activities set to commence on the
property subject to the Warranty Easement Deed in Perpetuity,
Wetland Reserve Program Easement No. 662D37l 1447. This
preliminary injunction shall remain in place until a final
decision has been reached with regard to Plaintiffs'
underlying request for judicial review." ECF No. 8, page
Answer has been filed by the Defendants and the
Administrative Record is not before this Court at this early
stage of the proceedings.
Standard of Review and the Evidentiary Hearing
preliminary injunction is "an extraordinary remedy
granted only in limited circumstances." Issa v. Sch.
District of Lancaster, 847 F.3d 121, 131 (3d Cir.
Jan.30, 2017) citing Ferring Pharm., Inc. v. Watson
Pharm., Inc., 765 F.3d 205, 210 (3d Cir. Aug. 26, 2014).
There are four factors a court must consider when evaluating
a motion for preliminary injunctive relief:
1) Has the moving party established a reasonable likelihood
of success on the merits (which need not be more likely than
2) Is the movant more likely than not to suffer irreparable
harm in the absence of preliminary relief;
3) Does the balance of equities tip in its favor; and
4) is an injunction in the public interest?
Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, 922 F.3d 140, 152
(3d Cir. Apr. 22, 2019) citing Reilly v. City of
Harrisburg, 858 F.3d 173, 179 (3d Cir. Jun. 26, 2017).
After the movant meets the first two "gateway
factors," the court then determines whether all four
factors, taken together, balance in favor of granting the
relief sought. Id.
this standard of review in mind, having now considered the
testimony of the witnesses and the evidence admitted at the
evidentiary hearing held on November 1, 2019, at which
Plaintiff David Rauterkus and Jeff Werner, Assistant State
Conservationist at NRCS testified, the Court makes Findings
of Fact and Conclusions of Law denying the motion for
preliminary injunction. See Federal Rule of Civil
Findings of Fact
Property and the Landowners
David and Maria Rauterkus are the owners of approximately
eighty (80) acres of real property at 3579 Fries Road,
Espyville, in Crawford County, Pennsylvania.
David and Maria Rauterkus have owned the property since 1991
and have lived on the property since 2000.
Rauterkus explained that Mrs. Rauterkus was unable to be
present at the preliminary hearing due to extreme fatigue
from oral chemotherapy. Mrs. Rauterkus survived two bouts
with breast cancer previously. In early spring of this year,
Mrs. Rauterkus was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma and is
currently treating. Mr. Rauterkus expressed the importance
that the land issue resolves in his favor for his own sake,
as well as for an aspect of his wife's healing. ECF No.
35, pages 17-18.
the time of the purchase of the property in 1991, about forty
acres were fallow farmland and the other forty acres were
forest. At that time, the land had not been farmed in over
ten years. After the Rauterkuses took ownership of the
property, the land was farmed for about eight years.
During their ownership of the property, the Rauterkuses
participated in two government programs to convert portions
of the farmland into wetlands. This included the Partners
program with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the
Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. See
Plaintiffs' Exhibit 11.
July 22, 2010, David Rauterkus signed an Application form
with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to
participate in the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and
the Wetland Reserve Program. Plaintiffs' Exhibit 1.
Leading up to the Signing of the Easement Deed
letter from Jody Lasko, District Conservationist of the NRCS,
dated December 13, 2012, the Rauterkuses were informed:
"This letter is to explain your restoration options with
respect to the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP). At this time
this is my understanding of what NRCS has determined will
meet the Program rules and procedures and address your
management goals..." Plaintiffs' Exhibit 2.
December 13, 2012 letter detailed the project goals and ended
with the admonition that "WRP policies dictate that you
will not be able to modify these projects
in any waywithout NRCS written
permission. Plaintiffs' Exhibit 2 (emphasis in original).
Between the time the Rauterkuses applied for the WRP and the
time the Easement Deed was signed and recorded, multiple
government officials had multiple contacts with the
Rauterkuses including multiple site visits to the property.
Before signing the deed, Mr. Rauterkus expressed concerns
that the written restoration plan was not part of the closing
document. Mr. Rauterkus was told that the NRCS did not
produce restoration plans prior to the closing, but that the
plan would be developed after the deed was signed and that
Mr. Rauterkus would "be able to participate in the
development of that plan and the management plan." ECF
No. 35, pages 59-60.
Rauterkus questioned why an addendum entitled "Exhibit D
- Water Uses and Water Rights" was not part of the closing
documents and he was told that the agency "didn't do
Exhibit D's." Id. at pages 64-67.
Because he was concerned with being able to utilize water on
his properly, Mr. Rauterkus was told that it would be
"taken care of through a compatible use agreement."
Later, Mr. Rauterkus was told that compatible use agreements
were only made after restoration work was completed.
Id. at page 69.
Rauterkus explained that he felt pressure to sign the
Easement Deed. Mr. Rauterkus believed that if he and his wife
decided not to sign the Easement Deed, they would be
responsible for all costs the agency had expended in
preparation for restoration work on his property. Mr.
Rauterkus believed the agency had spent in excess of $50, 000
for this preparation work. Id. at page 70.
Rauterkus read the Easement Deed multiple times before
signing it. Id. at page 116.
Around August 28, 2013, David and Maria Rauterkus signed the
Warranty Easement Deed in Perpetuity. Plaintiffs' Exhibit
5. The Rauterkuses granted the Natural Resources Conservation
Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture an easement,
the purpose of which was "to restore, protect, manage,
maintain, and enhance the functional values of wetlands and
other lands, and for the conservation of natural values
including fish and wildlife and their habitat, water quality
improvement, flood water retention, groundwater recharge,
open space, aesthetic values, and environmental
education." The Easement explains that "It is the
intent of NRCS to give the Landowner the opportunity to
participate in the restoration and management activities on
the easement area. By signing this deed, the Landowner agrees
to the restoration of the Easement Area and grants the right
to carry out such restoration to the United States."
Deed reserves "... to the landowner only those rights,
titles and interests expressly enumerated in Part Two, it is
the contention of the landowner to convey and relinquish any
and all other property rights not so reserved."
Part Two, the Easement Deed makes several Reservations to the
Landowner, including Title, Quiet Enjoyment, Control of
Access, Recreational Uses, Subsurface Resources and Water
Uses and Water Rights. Id.
Landowner reserves Subsurface Resources only to the extent
that the terms and conditions are listed in EXHIBIT C and
appended to and made a part of the Easement Deed. There is no
EXHIBIT C attached to the ...