New opinions — eminent domain, bankruptcy, and ERISA

After a fairly quiet CA3-opinion week, three today.

First up, a divided panel today reversed in an eminent-domain appeal. Here’s majority’s introduction:

The issue before us is straightforward: does Columbia
Gas Transmission, LLC (“Columbia”), have the right of
eminent domain to obtain easements over the land  of
objecting landowners, outside of the existing right of way, in
order to replace deteriorating pipeline? The answer is equally
straightforward and clear: yes.

And the dissent’s:

The  Majority  interprets  the  pertinent  regulations  to
unambiguously  allow  private gas companies to  replace  a
pipeline anywhere, on anybody’s  property, without any type
of formal administrative review.    In  deciding  that  the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”)  has  extended such
a broad  grant  of the sovereign power of eminent domain  to
private companies, the Majority  relies on  a definition  of
“replacement”  not  provided  in the  text  of the  regulations  but
supplied by  Columbia,  even though  it is at odds with what
Columbia admits is the common understanding  of what
constitutes  a “replacement” and despite the fact that  FERC
had never  adopted  that definition  until,  in the middle of an
unrelated  rulemaking,  the agency  crafted a footnote  in
reaction to  the District Court’s decision in this case.  In my
view, the Majority’s  limitless  reading of the regulations is
deeply problematic and renders them  constitutionally suspect.
To avoid  logical difficulties within  the regulations, as well as
to avoid  constitutional concerns,  some sort of locational
limitation  must  serve as  a constraint on  pipeline replacement
outside of an original right-of-way.

The case is Columbia Gas v. 1.01 Acres. Opinion by Rendell joined by Chagares, dissent by Jordan. Arguing counsel were John Wilburn of McGuire Woods for the gas company and Joshua Autry of Lavery Faherty Patterson for the landowners.

Next up is a bankruptcy reversal. At issue is a dispute (arcane, to my non-expert eyes) involving the adequacy of a trustee’s effort to recover of fraudulently transferred property.

The case is In re Allen. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Scirica and Cowen. Arguing counsel were Jason Baruch for the appellant and Daniel Allen for himself, pro se, which is a real rarity.

Today’s final case is an ERISA appeal in which the court affirmed, holding that an investment company that allegedly charged excessive fees was not a fiduciary to 401(k) participants.

The case is Santomenno v. John Hancock. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Van Antwerpen and Tashima CA9 by designation. Arguing counsel were Stephen Skillman of Szaferman Lakind for the investors, James Fleckner for the company, and Radha Vishnuvajjala for the US Department of Labor as amicus.