707 F.3d 583 (6th Cir. 2013), 12-3419, Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC v. Singh

Docket Nº:12-3419.
Citation:707 F.3d 583
Opinion Judge:ROGERS, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:COLUMBIA GAS TRANSMISSION, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Kanwal N. SINGH and Lynn W. Singh, Defendants-Appellants.
Attorney:Michael Garth Moore, Law Offices of Michael Garth Moore, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellants. David J. Bird, Reed Smith LLP, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for Appellee. Michael Garth Moore, Law Offices of Michael Garth Moore, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellants. David J. Bird, James M. Doerfler, Reed Smith LLP...
Judge Panel:Before: MARTIN and ROGERS, Circuit Judges, and TARNOW, District Judge.[*]
Case Date:February 07, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 583

707 F.3d 583 (6th Cir. 2013)

COLUMBIA GAS TRANSMISSION, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Kanwal N. SINGH and Lynn W. Singh, Defendants-Appellants.

No. 12-3419.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

February 7, 2013

Argued: Jan. 23, 2013.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 585

ARGUED:

Michael Garth Moore, Law Offices of Michael Garth Moore, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellants.

David J. Bird, Reed Smith LLP, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Michael Garth Moore, Law Offices of Michael Garth Moore, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellants.

David J. Bird, James M. Doerfler, Reed Smith LLP, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for Appellee.

Before: MARTIN and ROGERS, Circuit Judges, and TARNOW, District Judge.[*]

OPINION

ROGERS, Circuit Judge.

This is a case about whether federal-question jurisdiction exists over disputes between nondiverse parties who disagree about the scope of existing natural gas pipeline easements.

Columbia Gas Transmission disagrees with Kanwal N. Singh and Lynn W. Singh over the scope of an existing pipeline right-of-way. Columbia filed an action in federal district court seeking to enjoin the Singhs and their tenant from engaging in activity that Columbia believed could lead to violations of Columbia's duties under federal laws regulating natural gas service and pipeline safety. Although the cause of action appeared to be an Ohio interference-with-easement claim, Columbia's complaint referred to the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 717-717w, and regulations promulgated thereunder as a basis for federal " arising under" jurisdiction. Without explicitly addressing subject-matter jurisdiction, the district court held a status conference at which the parties reached a settlement. When the Singhs refused to comply with Columbia's understanding of the settlement, the district court granted Columbia's motion to enforce the settlement.

However, the district court did not have jurisdiction over this property dispute between nondiverse parties. Columbia's complaint neither asserts a federal cause of action nor shows that a substantial federal interest is implicated by its state-law claim. Therefore, Columbia did not properly invoke statutory " arising under" jurisdiction and the district court's judgment must be vacated.

The case centers around a property dispute in the eastern outskirts of Columbus, Ohio. In 1949, Columbia's predecessor-in-interest acquired an express easement for gas pipelines. Land records reflect that by 1960 both twenty-inch transmission pipelines at issue in this case were laid and in operation. The Singhs obtained their property on Outerbelt Street in 2004 with record notice of the right-of-way and operation of the pipelines.

On June 1, 2011, workers for Columbia saw activity on the property that raised safety concerns. According to Columbia, the " field personnel observed that unauthorized posts and a locked cable had been installed on the Property across Columbia's right-of-way for the pipelines, that

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dirt had been piled over the right-of-way, and that construction equipment was parked over the pipelines." Compl. ¶ 14.

Mr. Singh met with the Columbia workers at the site. Columbia made Mr. Singh aware of the pipelines and told him that he should not develop the property without first submitting plans to Columbia. Mr. Singh questioned the existence of the easement and said that he did not need to ask for Columbia's permission but rather that Columbia needed to obtain his permission to be on the property. Mr. Singh informed Columbia that his tenant planned to construct an access road over the pipelines and to park trailers on the property. In addition, Columbia learned that heavy equipment had been operated within the right-of-way. According to Columbia, " [u]sing the right-of-way as a means of ingress/egress, or as a crossing, is not allowed due to load stress that could be transmitted to pipelines." Id. ¶ 16.

Columbia asked Mr. Singh to remove the dirt piles and construction equipment from above the pipelines and advised him of a standard Columbia document which specified uses of the right-of-way that Columbia approves of. Mr. Singh refused to accept the document or to move the dirt piles and drove away after Columbia asked him whether he made a " One-Call" request to check for the existence of the pipelines. After Mr. Singh left, Columbia saw an unused posthole that was augured within approximately a foot of one of the pipelines. Columbia decided that the ground over the pipeline needed to be dug up to ensure the pipeline's safety.

While Columbia was in the process of exposing the pipeline, Mr. Singh returned with Ms. Singh. Columbia explained the safety concerns regarding the posthole and why Columbia needed to inspect the pipeline. Mr. Singh maintained that Columbia did not have the right to be on the property and did not have permission to expose the pipeline. After Columbia insisted that it did not need his permission, Mr. Singh took some pictures and left the property. According to Columbia, the Singhs indicated that they intended to proceed with developing the property without regard for Columbia's property rights or safety concerns.

On June 6, 2011, Columbia filed a complaint and motion for a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Although the cause of action is unclear, it appears to be an action for interference with easement. See id. ¶ 28 (" Defendants' refusal to modify their proposed use of the Property to accommodate Columbia's pre-existing legal interest over the Property has and will substantially interfere with Columbia's lawful operation of its facilities in the right-of-way." ). Columbia included a federal ingredient into its count for injunctive relief, saying " [i]f not enjoined, Defendants' actions will impair Columbia's duty to provide service under the Natural Gas Act." Id. ¶ 29.

Columbia asserted federal jurisdiction under the federal-question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and commerce jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1337, statutes. Columbia's complaint alleged that the " arising under" requirement of each statute could be satisfied because " this action involves substantial questions arising under federal laws, including laws regulating interstate commerce, and federal common law. Columbia's operations, including its operation of the pipeline threatened by the Defendants' actions, are subject to pervasive federal regulation under the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 717-717a, and accompanying regulations." Compl. ¶ 7.

Following a number of pro se filings by the Singhs, the district court set a telephonic status conference for August 10,

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2011. During this conference, the Singhs were present at the district court and counsel for Columbia telephoned in. Columbia expressed its belief that most of the dispute had been resolved by the Singhs' construction of pipeline crossovers approved by Columbia. However, Columbia sought an assurance that trailers would not be parked in the right-of-way. By the end of the conference, the district court believed that an agreement had been reached and all that remained was for the parties to memorialize the agreement.

Following the status conference, however, Mr. Singh resumed his pro se motion activity by filing a motion to dismiss. In response, Columbia filed a motion to enforce the settlement that Columbia contended was reached during the conference. Without addressing the basis of its jurisdiction, the district court found that a valid and enforceable agreement had been reached and enjoined the Singhs from placing trailers that would impede Columbia's easement and from crossing the pipeline at places other than the approved crossovers. The Singhs appeal from this order.

There was no federal-question jurisdiction in this case under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 or § 1337 because the claims did not " arise under" federal law. Columbia suggests that because it is regulated under federal law, it has the...

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