United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division
KELLY PRECHT, ET AL.
COLUMBIA GULF TRANSMISSION, LLC
D. CAIN JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the court are Motions for Summary Judgment filed,
respectively, by plaintiffs Flavia and Kelly Precht [doc. 37]
and defendant Columbia Gulf Transmission, LLC
("Columbia") [doc. 35]. Both motions are opposed
and are now ripe for review.
matter began as a suit for damages filed under state tort and
contract law by the Prechts in the Fourteenth Judicial
District Court, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. Doc. 1, att. 2.
The Prechts claim to have a farming lease over three tracts
of land owned by Stone Family, LLC ("Stone"), which
began as a verbal agreement in 2014. Id. at ¶
3; doc. 37, att. 3, ¶ 3. Stone acquired the property
from Barbara Helms Stone in December 1999 and has maintained
ownership since that time. Doc. 35, att. 3, ¶ 9; doc.
35, att. 4.
October 2014, while the Prechts allege their lease was
already in existence, Stone entered into a Right of Way
Agreement ("ROWA") with Columbia for the
latter's installation of a natural gas pipeline through
that land. Doc. 35, att. 5; see doc. 1, att. 2,
¶ 3. Through this agreement Stone granted Columbia a
permanent servitude across the property, measuring
approximately 50 feet wide by 4, 112 feet long, and an
adjoining temporary servitude. Id; doc. 35, art. 3,
¶¶ 10-11. As part of the ROWA, which was recorded
in Calcasieu Parish on January 8, 2015, Columbia promised to
replace and restore the area disturbed by pipeline
construction, repair, and maintenance, and "to pay for
any damage to marketable timber, crops, approved fences (if
any) and approved tile drains (if any) that is caused by the
activities conducted pursuant to this Agreement." Doc.
35, art. 5, p. 2; doc. 35, art. 3, ¶¶ 12-14. The
Prechts' lease had not been recorded by the time the ROWA
was recorded or executed. See doc. 35, art. 8, p. 1.
A written lease was eventually signed by the Prechts and
Bobby Welch in January 2017, but there is no evidence that it
was ever recorded. See doc. 38, art. 8, pp. 57-59.
same date it executed the ROWA, in October 2014, Stone also
signed a Release of All Claims against Columbia. Doc. 35,
art. 3, ¶ 15. In exchange for the sum of $216, 800, it
provided, it agreed to release
[Columbia], its successors, assigns, affiliates, contractors,
agents and employees, of and from any and all claims . . .
whatsoever which [Stone] now has or may hereafter have
against them, arising out of, or in any way associated with,
the laying, construction, maintaining, repairing and
operating of pipelines and related facilities constructed
across [Stone's property] . . . pursuant to [the ROWA],
and specifically including, but not limited to, claims for
damages necessarily resulting from the construction and
operation of pipelines, which specifically include but are
not limited to, (1) any and all liability for severance
damages; (2) interference with the operations or use of the
property by, [Stone], his lessee(s), and permittee(s); and
(3) damage or destruction of any and all vegetation,
including trees and growing crops, located within the
permanent and temporary servitudes granted under the [ROWA].
Doc. 35, art. 6; see doc. 35, art. 7 (proof of
Stone's acceptance of payment).
became aware of the Prechts' agricultural operations on
the land by at least October 2016, when its agent met with
plaintiff Kelly Precht about the project's impact on the
latter's rice farming plans. See doc. 43, art.
2, p. 10. Construction of the pipeline and restoration of the
surrounding area lasted from December 2016 to May 5, 2018.
Doc. 35, att. 3, ¶¶ 18-20. The Prechts then filed
this suit against Columbia on May 18, 2018, seeking equitable
and monetary relief under the ROWA and in tort based on
damages Columbia allegedly caused to their farming
operations. Doc. 1, att. 2.
removed the suit to this court on the basis of diversity
jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Doc. 1. The parties then
filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Columbia asserts
that the Prechts' claims are barred by the terms of the
release, the ROWA, and their lack of ownership interest in
the crops. Doc. 35, att. 1. The Prechts, meanwhile, maintain
that the release is a nullity, that Columbia is responsible
for damages to their farming operations, and that they are
entitled to recover as third party beneficiaries to the ROWA.
Doc. 37, att. 2. Both motions are opposed.
Summary Judgment Standard
should grant a motion for summary judgment when the movant
shows "that there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The party moving for
summary judgment is initially responsible for identifying
portions of pleadings and discovery that show the lack of a
genuine issue of material fact. Tubacex, Inc. v.
M/VRisan, 45 F.3d 951, 954 (5th Cir. 1995). The court
must deny the motion for summary judgment if the movant fails
to meet this burden. Id.
movant makes this showing, however, the burden shifts to the
non-moving party to "set forth specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)
(quotations omitted). This requires more than mere
allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleadings.
Instead, the nonmovant must submit "significant
probative evidence" in support of his claim. State
Farm Life Ins. Co. v. Gutterman, 896 F.2d 116, 118 (5th
Cir. 1990). "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is
not significantly probative, summary judgment may be
granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249 (citations
may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence
in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Reeves v.
Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc.,530 U.S. 133, 150
(2000). The court is also required to view all evidence in
the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all
reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Clift v.
Clift,210 F.3d 268, 270 (5th Cir. 2000). Under this
standard, a genuine issue of material fact exists if a