Two new civil opinions [update: plus a late-posted criminal-appeal opinion]

UGI Sunbury LLC v. Permanent Easement for 1.7575 acres—civil—reversal—Matey

This appeal arises from a dispute over how much a natural-gas pipeline owner must pay to the owners of private land for easements across their properties. The district court rejected the pipeline company’s motion to exclude the landowners’ valuation expert, and it expressed agreement with one aspect of that expert’s testimony but found values substantially lower than he had offered.

On appeal, the Third Circuit held that the landowners’ expert testimony should have been excluded. It held that Federal Rule of Evidence 702 applies in bench trials and that the district court erred when it declined to assess the witnesses’s reliability before the bench trial.  It further held that the district court abused its discretion by failing to exclude it on both reliability and fit grounds. Finally, it held that the error was not harmless even though the district court hadn’t adopted the expert’s proposed values. The opinion’s discussion of the district court’s handling of the case was unusually critical.

Joining Matey were Krause and Quiñones Alejandro EDPA by designation. Arguing counsel were James Martin of Reed Smith for the pipeline owner, and Stephen Edwards of Laverly Law and Michael Faherty of Faherty Law Firm for the property owners.


In re: Somerset Regional Water Resources—civil—affirmance—Bibas

The Third Circuit today affirmed a district court’s ruling rejecting a borrower’s argument that the ambiguous loan agreement in dispute should be construed so that the collateral was limited to a worthless asset.

Joining Bibas were Ambro and Krause. The case was decided without oral argument.


UPDATE: after the court posted the preceding two opinions at the usual time, it posted a third one later in the day.

U.S. v. Hoffert—criminal—affirmance—Scirica

The Third Circuit affirmed a man’s convictions and sentences for filing false liens against federal agents who had denied his eccentric challenges to prior convictions. The court described the case as “the latest entry in a long and confusing saga.”

Evidently the man came to believe that he was being held without a valid sentencing order and, after a series of other fruitless filings, he filed liens against federal judges and other officials who’d denied him the relief he sought. He was convicted and sentenced to four years, consecutive to his existing sentence. On appeal, he challenged the statute of conviction as vague and overbroad and challenged the sufficiency of the evidence. The court rejected both arguments.

This is a sad, strange little case, the sort that sometimes receives cursory or even flippant treatment by courts. Judge Scirica’s opinion here does nothing of the sort. It is careful and fair, an understated model of evenhanded judging, just like its author.

Joining Scirica were Jordan and Rendell. Arguing counsel were Quin Sorenson of the MDPA federal defenders for the appellant and Jonathan Cantil of the WDNY U.S. Attorney’s office for the governemnt.