ENBRIDGE PIPELINES (ILLINOIS) L.L.C. v. MOORE (January 24, 2011)
Over 70 years ago, a predecessor to Enbridge Pipelines ("Pipeline") built 120 miles of 10-inch pipeline through central Illinois. The owners of the properties under the surface of which the pipeline ran granted easements for the pipeline "so long as such pipe lines . . . are maintained." When Pipeline acquired it, the line had been inactive for almost 25 years. Pipeline wanted to replace the line with a larger one and extend it by 50 miles. Several landowners objected, claiming that the pipelines were not "maintained," under the easement, and that the easement rights were no longer valid. Pipeline brought 25 different lawsuits in two different district courts in Illinois seeking a declaration that the easements were still in effect. Judge Baker (C.D. Ill.) and Chief Judge Herndon (S.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment to Pipeline in each case that was not settled. A number of the defendants appeal. The Court consolidated the appeals.
In their opinion, Circuit Judges Bauer and Posner and District Judge Pallmeyer affirmed. The Court first addressed the jurisdictional amount requirement, which several of the defendants denied, though without any evidence or argument in support. Pipeline introduced evidence that it would cost far in excess of $75,000 per property to reroute the pipeline. The Court rejected the defendants' theory that Pipeline would not have to reroute but could acquire new easements for less than $75,000 per property. If rerouting the pipeline would cost in excess of $75,000 per property and would also result in significant delays, a rational property owner would demand at least that much. The amount in controversy requirement is satisfied. On the merits, the Court concluded that the easement's use of the word "maintain" is ambiguous. Relying on the economic value of property rights and the undesirability of demanding significant investment simply to preserve those rights, the Court concluded that the more plausible meaning of "maintain" is simply to retain or occupy. Here, the pipeline owners never deliberately abandoned their property rights. They simply chose, as the owner of a property right can, not to use that property right for a period of time. That intention, in conjunction with the considerable maintenance that was performed during that period, is enough to satisfy any reasonable interpretation of "maintain."