Justia U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC v. Sunderman Groves, Inc
The Natural Gas Act authorizes private entities who have received a certificate of public convenience and necessity to acquire property “by the exercise of the right of eminent domain.” Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC, invoked this power of eminent domain to acquire easements to build a pipeline on land owned by Sunderman Groves, Inc. In the condemnation proceeding, the district court determined that the Act incorporates state eminent domain law, and it consequently applied Florida law to grant attorneys’ fees, costs, and prejudgment interest to Sunderman Groves. Sabal Trail appealed these awards, arguing that the district court should have applied federal law instead. A different panel decided on a nearly identical case that arose out of Sabal Trail’s use of eminent domain power to build this same pipeline. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that it is firmly established” that “each succeeding panel is bound by the holding of the first panel to address an issue of law, unless and until that holding is overruled en banc, or by the Supreme Court.” United States v. Hogan, 986 F.2d 1364, 1369 (11th Cir. 1993). The court explained that the court’s prior construction of the Natural Gas Act is now the law in the Circuit, and it conclusively resolves this appeal. View "Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC v. Sunderman Groves, Inc" on Justia Law
Jarrod Johnson v. Water, Light, and Sinking Fund Commission of City of Dalton
Plaintiff alleged that toxic chemicals used during the carpet manufacturing process have been allowed to seep into the rivers that supply drinking water to communities near Dalton, including Rome, Georgia and the rest of Floyd County. On behalf of himself and a proposed class of water subscribers and ratepayers, he sued Dalton Utilities, a municipal corporation that operates Dalton’s wastewater treatment system, for violating the Clean Water Act and for creating a public nuisance. His lawsuit claims that Dalton Utilities has caused the City of Rome’s domestic water supply to be contaminated with dangerously high levels of toxic chemicals. The question before the Eleventh Circuit was whether Dalton Utilities is entitled to municipal immunity from Plaintiff’s nuisance abatement (injunctive relief) claim. The Eleventh Circuit denied Plaintiff’s motion to dismiss Dalton Utilities’ appeal for lack of jurisdiction. However, the court affirmed district court’s order denying Dalton Utilities’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s nuisance abatement claim on municipal immunity grounds. The court explained that at oral argument counsel for Dalton Utilities conceded that if Phillips is still good law, Plaintiff has properly alleged a Phillips kind of nuisance claim for personal injury. The court agreed and held that municipal immunity does not shield Dalton Utilities from Plaintiff’s nuisance abatement claim. View "Jarrod Johnson v. Water, Light, and Sinking Fund Commission of City of Dalton" on Justia Law
Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC v. 3.921 Acres of Land in Lake County Florida
Sabal Trail brought a condemnation action to acquire permanent and temporary easements that would allow it to build and operate a portion of the pipeline on property owned by Sunderman Groves. The jury awarded Sunderman Groves $309,500 as compensation for the easements, and the district court entered a final judgment providing that as part of the compensation award, Sunderman Groves was entitled to recover its attorney's fees and costs in an amount to be set by the court.The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing Sunderman Groves to testify about the value of the property and the court lacked jurisdiction to review whether Sunderman Groves was entitled to attorney's fees and costs. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and dismissed in part. View "Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC v. 3.921 Acres of Land in Lake County Florida" on Justia Law
Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co., LLC v. Cochran
A district court may, in appropriate circumstances, issue a preliminary injunction granting a pipeline company immediate access to property that it has an established right to condemn under the Natural Gas Act. Transcontinental filed consolidated condemnation proceedings against property owners in order to obtain an easement for the construction of a natural gas pipeline. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Transcontinental on the issue of whether it had a right to condemn certain portions of defendants' properties under Section 7(h) of the Natural Gas Act. The court held that the district court did not err in concluding that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Transcontinental held a valid certificate of public convenience and necessity; the property to be condemned was necessary for the natural-gas pipeline authorized by the certificate; and Transcontinental could not acquire the necessary easements by contract.The court also affirmed the district court's issuance of a preliminary injunction allowing Transcontinental to immediately enter defendants' properties and begin construction. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in requiring Transcontinental to post a surety bond rather than a cash deposit. View "Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co., LLC v. Cochran" on Justia Law
Posted in: Energy, Oil & Gas Law
Newton v. Duke Energy Florida, LLC
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action claiming that two provisions of the Florida Renewable Technologies and Energy Efficiency Act, which authorized the Nuclear Cost Recovery System (NCRS), were invalid under the Dormant Commerce Clause (DCC). Plaintiffs also claimed that the two provisions of the Act were preempted by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, and the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the DCC claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), because plaintiffs' interests as Florida electric utility customers were well beyond the zone the DCC was meant to protect. The court held that the Atomic Energy Act did not preempt the NCRS, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiffs leave to amend. View "Newton v. Duke Energy Florida, LLC" on Justia Law
Eastern Hydroelectric Corp. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
The Eleventh Circuit denied a petition for review of the Commission's decision to revoke petitioner's license to generate hydroelectricity at the Juliette Dam. The court held that the Commission was authorized to revoke petitioner's license under section 823b of the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 823b, because petitioner violated a compliance order by never submitting effectiveness protocols or documentation of its consultation with the Resource Agencies and substantial evidence supported the Commission's conclusion that the violation was done knowingly. Furthermore, the record showed that petitioner was given adequate notice and opportunity to be heard and that the Commission took into consideration the nature and seriousness of petitioner's violation and its compliance efforts. The court rejected petitioner's remaining arguments. View "Eastern Hydroelectric Corp. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law
Sumpter, et al. v. Secretary of Labor, et al.
This dispute arose from violations issued by the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration. At issue was whether the word "corporation" includes limited liability companies (LLCs) for purposes of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (the Mine Act), 30 U.S.C. 801 et seq. The court concluded that the terms "corporation" and "corporate operator" in the Mine Act are ambiguous. Applying Chevron deference, the court concluded that the Secretary's interpretation is reasonable where, most importantly, construing section 110(c) to include agents of LLCs is consistent with the legislative history. Therefore, the court held that an LLC is a corporation for purposes of the Mine Act and that section 110(c) can be used to assess civil penalties against agents of an LLC. Because substantial evidence supported the ALJ's decision to hold petitioners personally liable for the order at issue, the court affirmed on this issue. Finally, the order underlying their civil penalties was not duplicative. Accordingly, the court affirmed the ALJ's decision.View "Sumpter, et al. v. Secretary of Labor, et al." on Justia Law
Otwell, Sr., et al. v. Alabama Power Co.
Plaintiffs appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Alabama Power on their complaint alleging that Alabama Power unreasonably lowered the water levels of Smith Lake. Determining that Article III's standing requirements have been met, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to issue a declaratory judgment concerning plaintiffs' purported riparian rights. Plaintiffs did not have a right to a declaratory judgment and the district court did not abuse its substantial discretion by assuming plaintiffs had riparian rights and then resolving their claims on an alternative basis. The court agreed with the district court that plaintiffs' claims were a collateral attack on the FERC's final relicensing determination. Plaintiffs' argument that they were not subject to the exclusive judicial review provision of section 825l(b) of the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 825l(b), because they are distinct parties from Smith Lake Improvement and Stakeholders Association (SLISA) and did not participate in the proceedings before the FERC was unavailing. Section 821 of the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 821, did not allow plaintiffs to veto the operation of a project that was approved and licensed by the FERC. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment denying plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment and granting summary judgment to Alabama Power. View "Otwell, Sr., et al. v. Alabama Power Co." on Justia Law
Defenders of Wildlife, et al v. Bureau of Ocean Energy Managem, et al
The issue before the Eleventh Circuit concerned a challenge to an exploratory drilling plan under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OSCLA). The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved the Shell Exploration Plan S-7444 (Shell EP) to conduct drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The Plan covered ten exploratory wells on offshore Alabama leases in the central Gulf. This case was a consolidated appeal in which Petitioners the Defenders of Wildlife, the Gulf Restoration Network and others filed comments on the Shell EP, participated in the ancillary administrative proceedings, and then filed a petition with the Court for review. The only issues for the Court's review were whether the Shell EP violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). After review of the parties' briefs and the record below, the Court denied the petition for review, finding the BOEM's decision to approve the Shell EP was not arbitrary or capricious and instead, "reflected the agency's balance of environmental concerns with the expeditious and orderly exploration of resources in the Gulf of Mexico." View "Defenders of Wildlife, et al v. Bureau of Ocean Energy Managem, et al" on Justia Law
In Re: MDL-1824 Tri-State Water Rights Litigation
The Georgia Parties, Gwinnett County, Georgia, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) appealed from a grant of summary judgment in this consolidated suit arising from more than 20 years of litigation between the parties. All of the underlying cases related to the Corps' authority to operate the Buford Dam and Lake Lanier, the reservoir it created, for local water supply. On appeal, the parties raised several jurisdictional matters and asserted a number of substantive claims. The court held that the district court erred in finding that it had jurisdiction to hear certain parties because the Corps had not taken final agency action. The court also held that the district court and the Corps erred in concluding that water supply was not an authorized purpose of the Buford Project under the Rivers and Harbors Act (RHA), Pub. L. No. 79-525, 60 Stat. 634. The court also held that the district court erred in finding that the 1956 Act expired after 50 years. The court also provided certain instructions to the Corps on remand and the Corps shall have one year to make a final determination of its authority to operate the Buford Project under the RHA and the Water Supply Act, 43 U.S.C. 390b(a).