Scott Hutchison Enterprises, Inc. v. Cranberry Pipeline Corporation et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting in part and denying in part 21 MOTION by Scott Hutchison Enterprises, Inc. for Preliminary Injunction. Signed by Judge Robert C. Chambers on 3/16/2016. (cc: attys; any unrepresented parties) (mkw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR
THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA
SCOTT HUTCHISON ENTERPRISES, INC.,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:15-13415
CRANBERRY PIPELINE CORPORATION and
CABOT OIL & GAS CORPORATION,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Pending before the Court is Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction. ECF No. 21. The
Court conducted a hearing regarding this issue on March 15, 2016, and orally GRANTED in part
and DENIED in part Plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief. This Memorandum Opinion and Order
sets forth the findings of the Court in GRANTING in part and DENYING in part Plaintiff’s Motion
for Preliminary Injunction. ECF No. 21.
As alleged in Plaintiff’s Complaint, this case involves a gas pipeline, known as the C-1004
pipeline, which is owned and operated by the Defendants. A portion of the C-1004 pipeline
transverses property owned by the Plaintiff, known as the Ridgewood Subdivision. Plaintiff
acquired the Ridgewood Subdivision from Miracle Investments LLC., on or about April 1, 2013.
Compl., at ¶ 5. Richard G. Dehart, the owner and organizer of Miracle Investments LLC., the
predecessor in interest to the property known as the Ridgewood Subdivision, informed Scott
Hutchison, the Vice President of the Plaintiff, that the C-1004 pipeline existed within the
Ridgewood Subdivision by virtue of permission from Miracle Investments LLC., and its
predecessors in title to the property. Id. at ¶ 6. He also informed Plaintiff that the gas company had
no legal easement or right for the gas line to cross the property. Id. Plaintiff claims that prior to
Plaintiff’s purchase of the Ridgewood Subdivision, Defendants represented to Scott Hutchison that
the pipeline would not affect Plaintiff’s development of the property. Id. at ¶ 7.
After purchasing the property, Plaintiff began improving an existing roadway. Defendants
directed that Plaintiff cease construction of the roadway, representing to Plaintiff that construction
was a threat of serious injury or death due to the location of the C-1004 Pipeline on the property
in relation to the construction. Id. at ¶ 8. Based on the actions of Defendants, in directing Plaintiff
to stop construction prematurely, Plaintiff alleges that slips developed on the property. Id. As a
result of the pipeline interfering with Plaintiff’s development of the property, on or about May 15,
2015, Plaintiff revoked Defendants’ permission to have the pipeline across the property and
requested the pipeline’s immediate removal. Id. at ¶ 9. Since Plaintiff revoked Defendants’
permission to continue to utilize the C-1004 pipeline within the Ridgewood Subdivision,
Defendants have not removed the pipeline. Id. at ¶ 10.
At this juncture, Plaintiff requests the Court to grant a preliminary injunction in favor of
the Plaintiff, requiring Defendants to “(1) immediately remove the C-1004 pipeline from the
Plaintiff’s property which it is currently trespassing on; or (2) to compel the Defendants to stop
pumping gas through the C-1004 Pipeline until this litigation is complete.” ECF No. 22, at 1.
However, during the hearing before the Court on this matter on March 15, 2016, Plaintiff
articulated that, as a third alternative, it was requesting some statement or action from the
Defendants indicating that Defendants would be responsible for the safety and maintenance of the
pipeline throughout the pendency of this litigation, so that liability for the pipeline’s condition
would not fall on Plaintiff.
Standard for Injunctive Relief
“A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy afforded prior to trial at the discretion
of the district court that grants relief pendent lite of the type available after the trial.” Real Truth
About Obama, Inc. v. FEC, 575 F.3d 342, 345 (4th Cir. 2009), vacated, 130 S. Ct. 2371 (2010),
reinstated in part, 607 F.3d 355 (4th Cir. 2010). “Granting the ultimate relief requested, even
temporarily, at an early point in the case, often prior to the issues even being joined in the
pleadings, seems rightly reserved for only the most compelling of cases.” Dewhurst v. Century
Aluminum Co., 731 F. Supp. 2d 506, 514 (S.D. W. Va. 2010). In order to obtain a preliminary
injunction, a party must establish four elements: “(1) that he is likely to succeed on the merits, (2)
that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, (3) that the balance
of equities tips in his favor, and (4) that an injunction is in the public interest.” Winter v. Nat. Res.
Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008). As such, the party seeking to obtain a preliminary
injunction “must demonstrate by ‘a clear showing’ that, among other things, it is likely to succeed
on the merits at trial.” Dewhurst, 731 F. Supp. 2d at 515 (internal citations omitted).
The Court grants in part preliminary injunctive relief on behalf of Plaintiff. Specifically,
based on representations made by Plaintiff during the March 15, 2016 hearing, the Court finds that
the scope of the preliminary injunction is much narrower than that which was originally sought.
Plaintiff is concerned about potential liability if the C-1004 pipeline ruptures or is further damaged,
and therefore requests that Defendants be responsible for the maintenance and safety of the
pipeline during the pendency of this litigation. Based upon the representations made by Defendants
during oral arguments, the pipeline is currently in safe operating condition 1 Additionally,
During oral argument, Defendants represented that their expert, a civil engineer, would testify that he
does not believe the pipeline is in any danger. The Court accepted this representation and made it part of
Defendants agreed to undertake the responsibility of maintaining the pipeline and performing
necessary inspections as this case proceeds to ensure its safety.
As to this limited issuance of injunctive relief, the Court finds that the four factors required
for injunctive relief are met. First, in terms of Defendants being responsible for the maintenance
and safety of the pipeline, it is likely that Plaintiff will prevail on the merits of this issue because
Defendants have control over the pipeline and the particular expertise to maintain it. Second,
Plaintiff is likely to suffer irreparable harm without this injunctive relief because failure of
Defendants to inspect the pipeline and ensure its safety imposes a considerable burden on Plaintiff
and also poses a significant risk to Plaintiff’s safety.
Next, the balance of equities tips in Plaintiff’s favor because ultimately Plaintiff and
Defendants have the same interest in ensuring that the pipeline operates safely. Plaintiff is
concerned about potential liability if the pipeline ruptures or is further damaged. It is not an unfair
burden to require Defendants to maintain, repair, and ensure the safe condition of the pipeline, as
that is principally what Defendants are obliged to do. Finally, it is clear from the safety issues
discussed above that the public interest falls in line with the interest of the parties. There is interest
in the pipeline continuing to operate but only insofar as it is safe and maintained. Because this
limited relief is consistent with that, the public interest is served, as well as the interest of the
In summary, based on the representations of the parties, the appropriate injunctive relief
here is to maintain the status quo. The status quo, in this case, requires that the pipeline will
continue to operate and that Defendants will bear the responsibility of maintenance, repair, and
keeping the pipeline in a safe condition. This upkeep is not the responsibility of Plaintiff.
the record in lieu of have Defendants present expert testimony or reports.
As such, the Court grants Plaintiff limited injunctive relief in the form discussed infra.
Plaintiff’s requests for injunctive relief contained within its original Motion (ECF No. 21) are
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF No. 21) is
GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
The Court DIRECTS the Clerk to send a copy of this written Opinion and Order to counsel
of record and any unrepresented parties.
March 16, 2016
The ultimate issue in this case is whether the pipeline is lawfully operating on a prescriptive or other
easement or whether the pipeline’s location constitutes a trespass. It is that ultimate issue that has to be
determined before the Court could consider injunctive relief in the form of requiring Defendants to relocate
the pipeline or stop pumping gas through the pipeline.
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