On March 17, 2015, the District Court of the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted Constitution Pipeline Company, LLC, (Constitution) a “right of immediate entry and access to easements” for its pipeline project on a property in New Milford Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania in an eminent domain hearing. The Holleran-Zeffer maple grove is located on the disputed property.
After the Order, protests to the pipeline occurred on the property. The goal of the protests was to save the maple grove. Constitution made a motion to reopen the case on February 12, 2016, by filing an Emergency Motion to Enforce Order. The motion requested that the court enjoin the defendant protestors from denying Constitution “immediate entry and access to the property or otherwise interfering with the tree felling.” Constitution also requested that the court authorize the Pennsylvania State Police to enforce the easement granted to Constitution. On February 16, 2016, the court issued a Show Cause Order for the defendants to show cause as to why they should not be held in contempt of the March 17th order.
The court conducted a hearing ,Constitution Pipeline, LLC v. Zeffer et al, 3:14-cv-02458-MEM, on February 19, 2016, to give the defendants an opportunity to show cause. Constitution was required to prove by clear and convincing evidence that there was: (1) existence of a valid court order; (2) knowledge of the order; and (3) disobedience of the order. There was no dispute over the first two elements. The court found insufficient evidence that any defendant had disobeyed the court order. Hence, Constitution’s motion for contempt was denied.
However, the court did find that there was interference with the Order. The court found evidence that a group of people had prevented safe tree felling on the property in February 2016. The court found that the interference required enforcement of the Order. Subsequently, the court authorized the U.S. Marshals Service or “a law enforcement agency it (U.S. Marshals Service) designates” to enforce the Order.
Trees in the area may only be cut between November 1st and March 31st because of Federal Wildlife rules. The rules exist to protect migratory birds and the endangered long eared bat.
Written by - Stephen Kenney
Center for Agricultural and Shale Law