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Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC v. 6.04 acres

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

December 6, 2018

TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
6.04 acres, more or less, over parcel(s) of land of approximately 1.21 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lot 1049, et al., Defendant, GAIL BRANDON COCHRAN, Defendant-Appellant. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
80 acres more or less, in Land Lot 74 of the Sixteenth (16th) Land District, Third (3rd) Section of Bartow County, Georgia and more particularly described herein, et al., Defendants, VARIOUS DEFENDANTS, Defendants-Appellants. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
4.57 acres more or less, over the following parcel(s) of land: 0.25 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lot 37 and 3.70 acres, more or less situated in Land Lot 28 all in the Sixth (6th) District of the Third (3rd) Section of Gordon County, Georgia and more particularly described herein, et al., Defendants, LEGACY PROPERTIES OF NORTHWEST GEORGIA, LLC, Defendant-Appellant. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
5.73 acres, more or less, over the following parcel(s) of land: Approximately 102.593 acres, more or less, being in Land Lots 1075, 1076, 1077, 1084, and 1085 of the 3rd District, 3rd Section of Paulding County, Georgia and further Less and Except 1 acre, more or less, situated in Land Lot 1085 of the 3rd District, 3rd Section of Paulding County, Georgia, and further Less and Except Tract 1: 1 acre, more or less, and Tract 2: 0.775 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lot 1075 of the 3rd District, 3rd Section of Paulding County, Georgia and more particularly described herein, et al., Defendants, NANCY H. TIBBITTS, Defendant-Appellant. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
1.90 acres, more or less, over parcel(s) of land of approximately 10.013 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lot 69, of the Fourth (4th) Land District, of Coweta County, Georgia, and more particularly described herein, et al., Defendants, DONALD J. MORRIS, Defendant-Appellant. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
2.16 acres, more or less, over the following parcel(s) of land: Approximately 80 acres, more or less, being the West half of Land Lot 31, of the Sixth (6th) Land District and Third (3rd) Section of Gordon County, Georgia, Less and Except 3.828 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lot 31 of the Sixth (6th) Land District and Third (3rd) Section of Gordon County and more particularly described herein; et al., Defendants, MELVIN M. DOBSON, Defendant-Appellant. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
A permanent roadway easement across 23.511 acres situated in Land Lots 64 and 81 of the 3rd District and 3rd Section of Paulding County, Georgia and more particularly described herein, Defendant, JEFF MOON, Defendant-Appellant. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
2.77 acres, more or less, over parcel(s) of land of approx. 38.7225 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lot 568 of the Third (3rd) Land District, Third (3rd) Section, of Paulding County, Georgia and more particularly described herein, Defendant, CHARLINE CAMBRON, Defendant-Appellant. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
3.48 acres, more or less, over parcel(s) of land of approximately 40 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lot 569 and .75 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lot 512 in the Third (3rd) Land District, Third (3rd) Section, of Paulding County, Georgia, and more particularly described herein, et al., Defendants, JJBK LLLP, Defendant-Appellant. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
.07 acres, more or less, over parcel(s) of land of 5.292 acres, more or less, and being situated in Land Lots 70 and 71 of the Fourth Land District of Coweta County, Georgia, and being identified as Tract 2 in that certain Revised Final Plat of Survey for The Hills At Wager's Mill, as revised on October 1, 2002 and recorded on January 22, 2003 in Book 77, Page 199; in the Plat Records in the Office of the Clerk of the Superior Court of Coweta Co, et al., Defendants, IAN S. GOLDENBERG, Defendant-Appellant. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
3.30 acres, more or less, over parcel(s) of land of approximately 39 acres, more or less, in Land Lots 1035 and 1036 of the Seventeenth (17th) Land District, and Third (3rd) Section of Bartow County, Georgia and more particularly described herein, et al., Defendants, LACKEY GROUP LLC, Defendant-Appellant. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
3.48 acres, more or less, over the following parcel(s) of land: Approx. 40.00 acres, more or less and lying and being in all of land Lot 726, of the 3rd District, 3rd Section, Paulding County, Georgia, Less and Except 2 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lots 725 and 726 of the 3rd District, 3rd Section of Paulding County, Georgia and more particularly described herein, Defendant, PAUL CORLEY, Defendant-Appellant. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC., Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
2.17 acres, more or less, over the following parcel(s) of land: Approximately 41.39 acres, more or less, and being in Land Lots 714 and 715 of the 3rd District, 3rd Section, Paulding County, Georgia, Less and Except 3.936 acres, more or less, in Land Lot 715 of the 3rd District, 3rd Section Paulding County, Georgia, Further Less and Except 0.750 acres, more or less, in Land Lot 715 of the 3rd District, 3rd Section, Paulding County, Georgia, Defendant, PAUL FRANKLIN CORLEY, as executor of the estate of Hazel Genette Sligh Corley, Defendant-Appellants. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPELINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
3.94 acres, more or less, over parcel(s) of land of approximately 102.906 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lots 68, 77, 78 and 140 of the 3rd District, 3rd Section, Paulding County, Georgia and more particularly described herein, Defendant, MOON INVESTMENTS, LLC, Defendant-Appellant. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC., Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
12.993 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lot 59 of the Fourth Land District of Coweta County, Georgia, et al., Defendant, THOMAS W. SMRCINA, JEANNIE F. SMRCINA, Defendants-Appellants. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
1.45 acres, more or less, over the following parcel(s) of land: Approximately 41.035 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lot 28 of the 6th District and 3rd Section of Gordon County Georgia, Less and Except 4.6497 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lot 28 of the 6th District of Gordon County, Georgia, and more particularly described within, et al., Defendant, MICHAEL W. HILL, Defendant-Appellant. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
.83 acres, more or less, over parcel(s) of land of approximately 5.003 acres, more or less and being situated in Land Lot 71 of the Fourth Land District of Coweta County, Georgia and more particularly described herein, et al., Defendants, CHRISTINE MARIE CALI, f.k.a. Christine M. Snellgrove, Defendant-Appellant. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
50 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lots 55 and 68 of the Fourth (4th) Land District of Coweta County, Georgia; 100 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lot 68 of the Fourth (4th) Land District of Coweta County, Georgia, Defendant, GENE A. TERRELL, JOYCE BAILEY TERRELL, Defendants-Appellants. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
10.1824 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lots 669 and 700 of the 17th Land District and 3rd Section, of Bartow County, Georgia Defendants, TIM DENSON, TERA DENSON, Defendants-Appellants. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
16.14 acres and 5 additional acres, more or less, situated in Land Lot 982 of the Seventeenth (17) District, Third (3rd) Section of Bartow County, Georgia - 35.10 acres more or less in Land Lots 962 and 963 of the Seventeenth (17th) District Third (3rd) Section of Bartow County, Georgia, et al., Defendants, WILLIAM G. TAFF, REBECCA K. TAFF, Defendants-Appellants. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
6.59 acres being Tract 7 in Land Lot 669 of the Seventeenth (17th) Land, Third (3rd) Section of Bartow County, Georgia, et al., Defendants, HENRY D. MEZ, RHONDA S. MEZ, Defendants-Appellants. TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPE LINE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
3.22 acres, more or less, over parcel(s) of land of approximately 137.56 acres, more or less, situated in Land Lot 58 of the Fourth (4th) Land District of Coweta County, Georgia and more particularly described herein, Defendant, HANDY LAND AND TIMBER L.P., Defendants-Appellants.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, D.C. Docket Nos. 1:16-cv-03288-ELR; 1:16-cv-03218-ELR, 1:16-cv-2991-ELR, 1:16-cv-03217-ELR, 1:16-cv-03258-ELR, 1:16-cv-03236-ELR, 1:16-cv-03234-ELR, 1:16-cv-03220-ELR, 1:16-cv-03224-ELR, 1:16-cv-3245-ELR, 1:16-cv-03238-ELR, 1:16-cv-03223-ELR, 1:16-cv-3247-ELR, 1:16-cv-03230-ELR, 1:16-cv-3257-ELR, 1:16-cv-03295-ELR, 1:16-cv-03232-ELR, 1:16-cv-3250-ELR, 1:16-cv-3297-ELR, 1:16-cv-3290-ELR, 1:16-cv-03296-ELR, 1:16-cv-03293-ELR, 1:16-cv-03364-ELR

          Before JILL PRYOR and JULIE CARNES, Circuit Judges, and CONWAY, [*] District Judge.

          JULIE CARNES, CIRCUIT JUDGE:

         Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC ("Transcontinental") brought these consolidated condemnation proceedings against several property owners in Northwest Georgia (collectively, "Defendants") in order to obtain an easement for the construction of a natural-gas pipeline. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Transcontinental on the issue of whether it had a right to condemn certain portions of Defendants' properties under Section 7(h) of the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. § 717f(h). The district court also issued a preliminary injunction allowing Transcontinental to immediately enter Defendants' properties and begin construction. As a condition of such access, the district court required Transcontinental to post a surety bond in an amount equal to twice the appraised value of Defendants' properties. Defendants challenge each of those rulings on appeal. After careful review, and with the benefit of oral argument, we affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Factual Background

         Transcontinental is a natural-gas company that transports natural gas back and forth between the Gulf Coast and the New York City metropolitan area via pipeline.[1] Along the route, Transcontinental provides natural gas to customers throughout the East Coast.

         On March 19, 2015, Transcontinental applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") for a certificate of public convenience and necessity authorizing it to construct a new natural-gas pipeline in Northwest Georgia, as well as related facilities in Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. The new 115-mile lateral pipeline would run from a compressor station on Transcontinental's mainline in Coweta County, Georgia, to meter stations in Murray County, near the city of Dalton. The purpose of the project was to enable Transcontinental to transport natural gas extracted from the Marcellus shale and other supply basins in the northeastern United States to customers in the Southeast and Gulf Coast. Transcontinental would receive the gas at a point on its mainline in Mercer County, New Jersey, and deliver it to an interconnection with another company's pipeline in Mississippi. Along the way, Transcontinental would provide natural gas to its customers, including, through the new lateral pipeline, communities in Northwest Georgia. This project, which included both the new lateral pipeline and the related facilities on Transcontinental's mainline, was called the Dalton Expansion Project.

         A. Pre-application Preparations for the Dalton Expansion Project

         Prior to its March 2015 application, Transcontinental held an "open season" in May and June of 2012, through which it solicited bids for the natural-gas transportation services it planned to provide if the Dalton Expansion Project were ultimately approved by FERC.[2] As a result of those solicitations, Transcontinental executed binding precedent agreements with Atlanta Gas Light Company and Oglethorpe Power Corporation for all of the natural-gas capacity associated with the Dalton Expansion Project. A precedent agreement is "a long-term contract subscribing to expanded natural gas capacity." Myersville Citizens for a Rural Cmty., Inc. v. FERC, 783 F.3d 1301, 1310 (D.C. Cir. 2015).

         As early as April of 2013, Transcontinental began contacting landowners in the general area where it planned to place the pipeline, and requested those owners' permission to access their properties for the purpose of surveying the land. These surveys were obviously necessary to help Transcontinental and FERC decide on the most appropriate route for the pipeline.

         In the spring of 2014, through written communications, personal contacts, and by other means, Transcontinental began notifying those landowners who were likely to be affected by construction of the pipeline. In addition, from June through September of 2014, as part of FERC's pre-filing environmental review of the proposed project, FERC staff participated in open houses sponsored by Transcontinental in several cities along the pipeline's proposed route.

         In October 2014, FERC published a notice in the Federal Register announcing that FERC environmental staff would conduct "scoping" meetings in three Georgia cities in November 2014, where members of the public could voice any concerns about the environmental impact of the project.[3] Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Assessment for the Planned Dalton Expansion Project, 79 Fed. Reg. 64, 186 (Oct. 28, 2014). This notice was also mailed to landowners affected by the proposed pipeline. Id. at 64, 187-88. Shortly after those scoping meetings, FERC published a second notice in the Federal Register, which, like the first notice, was also mailed to landowners affected by the project. Supplemental Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Assessment for the Planned Dalton Expansion Project, 79 Fed. Reg. 69, 455 (Nov. 21, 2014). Both notices informed the landowners that, if the project was approved, Transcontinental would have the right of eminent domain and, if an agreement could not be reached to purchase an easement on their properties, Transcontinental could initiate condemnation proceedings. Supplemental Notice of Intent, 79 Fed. Reg. at 69, 455; Notice of Intent, 79 Fed. Reg. at 64, 187.

         The landowners were also informed that they could intervene in Transcontinental's FERC proceedings once Transcontinental filed its application. Supplemental Notice of Intent, 79 Fed. Reg. at 69, 457; Notice of Intent, 79 Fed. Reg. at 64, 188. In fact, after Transcontinental filed its application in March 2015, several landowners-including some of the appellants here-filed motions to intervene in Transcontinental's FERC proceedings, which FERC granted.

         B. Transcontinental's Application

         As noted, Transcontinental filed its application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity on March 19, 2015. As part of its application, Transcontinental was required to submit alignment sheets detailing the pipeline's proposed route. See 18 C.F.R. § 157.14(a)(6). These alignment sheets consisted of aerial photographs of the relevant properties on which were drawn property boundaries, mile markers, the pipeline's proposed location, the locations of permanent and temporary easements, access roads, the limits of disturbance to the land, and other features. FERC used the alignment sheets to determine where the pipeline should go to minimize the pipeline's impact on the environment and landowners.

         C. Transcontinental's Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity

         On August 3, 2016-more than a year after Transcontinental filed its application-FERC issued the requested certificate of public convenience and necessity. In the certificate, FERC noted that it had received several comments in response to its environmental assessment, some of which proposed alternative routes for the pipeline. FERC adopted two of those proposals, one of which was submitted by a landowner who intervened in Transcontinental's FERC proceedings and who was later named as a defendant in the instant condemnation proceedings. With respect to the overall impact on landowners, FERC concluded that, by designing the project in such a way as to locate approximately 49% of the proposed pipeline facilities on already-existing rights-of-way, Transcontinental had "designed the project to minimize adverse impacts on landowners and surrounding communities."

         The certificate authorized Transcontinental to construct and operate the Dalton Expansion Project as it was described in the certificate "and as more fully described in the application," particularly in the alignment sheets. The certificate further provided that Transcontinental's exercise of eminent domain in any condemnation proceedings "must be consistent with the[] authorized facilities and locations." The certificate explicitly stated that Transcontinental's right of eminent domain did "not authorize it to increase the size of its natural gas facilities to accommodate future needs or to acquire a right-of-way for a pipeline to transport a commodity other than natural gas."

         D. Transcontinental's Post-Certificate Attempt to Purchase Easements for the Dalton Expansion Project

         Shortly after FERC issued the certificate, Transcontinental made a final offer to each of the landowners with whom it had not yet reached an agreement to purchase an easement for construction and maintenance of the new pipeline. Specifically, Transcontinental offered to purchase the easements depicted on certain survey plats attached to its offer letters. The survey plats were maps depicting the geographic location of the proposed easements relative to property lines and other landmarks. Transcontinental made clear, however, that the survey plats were "preliminary," and that the final location of the easements would "be fixed and determined by the initial pipeline as installed on Grantor's Land with the Permanent Right of Way being measured as 50 feet in width with the pipeline being located therein." Once the pipeline was installed, payment would be computed based on an agreed-upon formula, and a new "as built" survey plat would be prepared, a copy of which would be enclosed with the check sent to the landowner and would become part of the agreement. Transcontinental's proposed easement also included the right to transport "gas, oil, petroleum products, or any other liquids, gases, or substances which can be transported through pipelines."

         II. Procedural History

         A. Transcontinental's Condemnation Suits

         In late August and early September of 2016-after the deadline for its final offers had expired-Transcontinental brought more than 60 separate condemnation proceedings against the remaining landowners and their properties. Transcontinental attached several exhibits to each of its complaints, including: (1) the survey plats that were attached to its final offer to the landowner, along with a legal description of the geographic locations of the relevant easements; (2) a copy of the FERC-issued certificate of public convenience and necessity; and (3) a description of the terms that Transcontinental hoped would govern the easements once granted.[4] The district court consolidated the cases.

         In most cases, on the same day that it filed the condemnation complaint, Transcontinental also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction allowing it to immediately enter a particular Defendant's property to begin construction of the pipeline. Absent an injunction granting immediate access, Transcontinental would have had to await the conclusion of the condemnation proceedings, when the amount of compensation due to each landowner would be finally determined. Thus, in order to establish that a preliminary injunction allowing immediate access was warranted, Transcontinental also filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of whether it had a right to condemn the relevant properties.

         B. Transcontinental's Evidence in Support of Its Motions

         Transcontinental produced three declarations in support of its motions. First, Transcontinental produced a declaration from the pipeline engineer for the Dalton Expansion Project stating that Transcontinental's survey plats were prepared by a Georgia certified land surveyor. The surveyor had used the same data that was used to generate the alignment sheets previously submitted to FERC. The declaration further stated that "the location and dimensions of the easements" shown on the survey plats "conform[ed] to the Project path and footprint depicted in the Project Alignment Sheets and other drawings . . . that FERC reviewed and approved." Copies of the alignment sheets and survey plats were attached to the declaration. According to the declaration, the alignment sheets were also available to the public free of charge on FERC's website.

         Transcontinental's second declaration was from the land representative for the Dalton Expansion Project. According to that declaration, Transcontinental had made at least two offers to purchase an easement from each Defendant before it filed the instant condemnation proceedings. The declaration further stated that Transcontinental had already acquired more than 78% of the easements necessary for the Dalton Expansion Project. A copy of Transcontinental's final offer to each Defendant was attached to the declaration.

         Transcontinental's third declaration was from the Dalton Expansion Project's project manager. According to that declaration, Transcontinental had an in-service deadline of May 1, 2017. That date was necessitated, in part, by contracts and commitments it had made with Atlanta Gas Light Company and Oglethorpe Power Corporation to ensure a purchaser for the natural gas. To meet this deadline, the declaration indicated that Transcontinental would need to enter Defendants' properties by October 1, 2016, to perform environmental, civil, and cultural surveys, complete survey stakeouts, and begin construction.

         The declaration further stated that Transcontinental would suffer irreparable harm if it were required to await the completion of the condemnation proceedings before having access to Defendants' properties. First, any delay in the in-service deadline would expose Transcontinental to the risk of contractual penalties, daily lost revenues, and irrecoverable costs. Second, any delay that caused Transcontinental to miss its in-service deadline would also expose Transcontinental to a significant risk of damage to its reputation, competitive standing, and business goodwill.

         The project manager went on to declare that an economic analysis conducted by Transcontinental indicated that construction costs for the project would generate approximately $450 million in economic activity within the State of Georgia, utilizing approximately 2, 170 workers during the construction phase. The project was projected to generate more than $3 million per year in new economic activity once the pipeline was operational. Any delays in construction would likely delay the realization of these public benefits. The project manager further noted that, in comments submitted to FERC, Atlanta Gas Light Company had asserted that the project was "critically important" because it would provide consumers in Northwest Georgia with "much needed access to the rapidly developing supply basins in the northeastern United States." Atlanta Gas Light Company's comment was attached to the declaration, along with a similar comment submitted to FERC by Oglethorpe Power Corporation.

         The project manager next asserted that Defendants would suffer no harm if Transcontinental were permitted to immediately enter their properties because, in the end, Defendants would be fully compensated for Transcontinental's acquisition and use of any easement interests at the compensation stage of the litigation. He further asserted that Transcontinental had obtained a real-estate appraisal report prepared by an independent Georgia-certified real-estate appraiser for each property, and that Transcontinental was willing to post a bond or pay a cash deposit equal to twice the estimated value of the easements, or in any other amount that the district court deemed proper.

         C. Defendants' Evidence in Opposition

         In response to Transcontinental's motions, Defendants produced an affidavit from a Georgia-licensed real-estate appraiser. The appraiser took issue with the proposed easement terms that Transcontinental had attached to its complaints. He stated that, under those terms, Transcontinental could deviate from the pipeline location depicted in the survey plats. He further stated that the proposed terms would allow Transcontinental to encumber, at least temporarily, each landowner's entire tract of property, rather than only those portions of the property depicted in the survey plats. In addition, the appraiser also asserted that the proposed terms would effectively allow Transcontinental to extend its temporary easements indefinitely.

         Based on those determinations, Defendants' appraiser ultimately concluded that it was "not possible, without making extraordinary assumptions," to value the rights that Transcontinental sought to acquire either in its final offer letters or as proposed in the complaint. Defendants also produced the first page of an April 2013 letter from Transcontinental indicating that, at that time, Transcontinental had a "targeted in-service date" of August 2016 for the Dalton Expansion Project.

         D. The District Court's Evidentiary Rulings

         The district court scheduled a hearing on Transcontinental's September 2016 motions, [5] which it later continued at Defendants' request. The hearing was originally scheduled for October 17, 2016. Defendants sought a continuance for several reasons, but did not specify a date that would be acceptable to them. They did, however, ask the district court to rule, before the hearing on Transcontinental's motions, on certain venue issues that they had raised in their answers.[6] They contended that the hearing scheduled for October 17, 2016, would "be an appropriate time to take evidence" on those issues. They further noted that the hearing was scheduled before some of their responses to Transcontinental's motions were due.

         Defendants also complained that Transcontinental had not provided them with a witness list, and they sought the opportunity to conduct "expedited written and deposition discovery" before the hearing on Transcontinental's motions. They did not describe what evidence they hoped to obtain through such discovery, but instead made the conclusory assertion that discovery was necessary as a matter of due process. They further contended that discovery would "narrow the issues" that would ultimately have to be explored at the hearing. Defendants also sought the opportunity to present testimony at the hearing, and asked the district court to "set parameters" regarding the exchange of witness lists. However, they neither identified any witnesses nor described any testimony that they expected to present if given the opportunity to do so.

         On October 12, 2016, the district court granted Defendants' motion for a continuance, cancelled the October 17, 2016, hearing, and rescheduled that hearing for October 26, 2016. However, the district court denied Defendants' requests for discovery and for permission to present testimony at the hearing. It declared that the hearing would be limited to the condemnation issues raised in Transcontinental's motions-specifically, the "legal issues surrounding [Transcontinental's] authority to condemn under the Natural Gas Act." "[A]rgument regarding compensation" would not be heard. Given the "discrete issue" to be argued, the district court concluded that "witness testimony at the hearing [would] not [be] appropriate," and that "discovery prior to the hearing [was] not warranted." In accordance with that order, the hearing on Transcontinental's motions, which lasted more than four hours, was ultimately held on October 26, 2016.

         E. The Hearing on Transcontinental's Motions

         At the hearing on Transcontinental's motions, Defendants acknowledged that Transcontinental had a right to condemn the property interests identified in the certificate of public convenience and necessity. They argued, however, that the property interests Transcontinental sought to condemn exceeded the interests that it was allowed to condemn under the certificate of public convenience and necessity. Specifically, Defendants contended that the survey plats attached to Transcontinental's motions for summary judgment did not conform to the alignment sheets approved by FERC. They also contended that the legal descriptions of the easements, as presented in Transcontinental's complaints, did not "comport with the rights allowed [to be condemned] by FERC." Defendants also attacked the sufficiency of Transcontinental's complaints, arguing that the interests Transcontinental sought to condemn were not "legally cognizable" as easements because Georgia law requires easements to be described in much greater specificity than Transcontinental had provided.

         Defendants further argued that Transcontinental had failed to show that it could not acquire the necessary easements by contract because the interests that Transcontinental had sought to purchase by contract were broader than what was necessary to construct the pipeline, and broader than what FERC had authorized Transcontinental to condemn. Moreover, Defendants argued that Transcontinental's descriptions of the easements it sought to purchase were so vague that its offers to purchase those easements were not even valid offers under Georgia contract law.

         With respect to Transcontinental's motion for a preliminary injunction, Defendants argued that Transcontinental had failed to show that any harm it would suffer in the absence of an injunction would be irreparable, as Transcontinental's alleged harm was largely economic in nature, and any failure to meet the in-service deadline was a result of Transcontinental having set that deadline too early. They also asserted that, if an injunction were granted, Transcontinental should be required to make a cash deposit with the court before it entered any Defendant's property.

         F. The District Court's Rulings on Transcontinental's Motions

         In an order entered two weeks after the four-hour hearing, and after having received Defendants' responses and documentary evidence in opposition to each of Transcontinental's motions, the district court concluded that Transcontinental was entitled to condemn Defendants' properties, but only to the extent depicted on the relevant alignment sheets and survey plats. The district court reasoned that, to establish a right to condemn under the Natural Gas Act, Transcontinental was required to prove that: (1) it held a valid certificate of public convenience and necessity; (2) the property to be condemned was necessary for the Dalton Expansion Project; and (3) it could not acquire the necessary easements by contract. With respect to the first element, the district court concluded that the certificate of public convenience and necessity produced by Transcontinental was final and enforceable, as neither FERC nor any federal court of appeals had stayed, modified, or reversed FERC's issuance of that certificate.

         As to the second element, the district court rejected Defendants' argument that Transcontinental's complaints, along with the survey plats and legal descriptions attached to those complaints, insufficiently described the easements for purposes of condemnation. The court further reasoned that the property would be deemed necessary for the Dalton Expansion Project if it was part of the right-of-way or work area approved by FERC. Because FERC had approved the alignment sheets when it issued the certificate, the court concluded, the property depicted on those alignment sheets was necessary for the Dalton Expansion Project. The district court also observed that there was "no evidence that the geographic location depicted on the survey plats and legal descriptions are wrong in relation to the FERC-approve alignment sheets." Rather, the court noted that the declarations produced by Transcontinental "establish[ed] that the areas of the permanent pipeline easements and temporary construction easements depicted in [the] survey plats and legal descriptions conform[ed] to the alignment sheets approved by FERC." Accordingly, the court concluded that the right-of-way and work areas depicted on the survey plats were necessary for the Dalton Expansion Project, and there was no genuine "dispute of material fact regarding the location of the easements sought."

         With respect to the third element, the district court concluded that Transcontinental had established that it could not acquire the necessary easements by contract, as it was undisputed that the parties had not reached an agreement for the easements. It noted that the evidence showed that Transcontinental had worked for more than a year to meet with property owners and negotiate contracts, and that it had been able to acquire more than 75% of the necessary easements through such negotiations. Moreover, Transcontinental had introduced evidence indicating that it offered to purchase the easements at market value. Notwithstanding those efforts, it was undisputed that the parties to these cases had been unable to reach an agreement.

         Having found no genuine dispute of material fact as to these matters, the district court granted Transcontinental's motion for partial summary judgment, concluding that Transcontinental had a right to condemn the property depicted on the alignment sheets and survey plats. Defendants did win a significant victory, however, in that the district court expressly declined to adopt Transcontinental's proposed easement terms or any "interpretations that would allow" Transcontinental to place the pipeline anywhere other than the locations depicted on the alignment sheets and survey plats.

         The district court also granted Transcontinental's motion for a preliminary injunction. It concluded that, by demonstrating an entitlement to summary judgment, Transcontinental had already established a substantial likelihood of success-indeed, actual success-on the merits of its condemnation claim. It further concluded that both the economic and reputational harm that Transcontinental would suffer if it missed its in-service deadline were irreparable. It rejected Defendants' argument that Transcontinental could not seek equitable relief to prevent such harm because it had played a role in setting the in-service deadline. The district court reasoned that Transcontinental's role in setting that deadline did not amount to "unclean hands" because in-service deadlines "are not simply agreed to as a matter of bilateral contract in this context," as they are "driven by customers' seasonal gas and heating requirements and are a prerequisite to final FERC approval given the requirement of 'open season' bidding periods for gas supply contracts."

         The district court further concluded that the injuries Transcontinental would suffer absent an injunction outweighed any injury Defendants would suffer from Transcontinental having access to their properties sooner rather than later. Transcontinental had produced evidence indicating that delays in construction would cost it hundreds of thousands of dollars per day. By contrast, the district court reasoned that any harm suffered by Defendants consisted of "the difference between losing possession immediately as opposed to losing possession after compensation is determined." The district court estimated that such damages were likely to be "slight at best given assurances of adequate compensation through bond."

         Finally, the district court concluded that an injunction would not be adverse to the public interest. It noted FERC's declaration in the certificate of public convenience and necessity that "[b]ased on the benefits the project will provide and the minimal adverse impacts on existing shippers, other pipelines and their captive customers, and landowners and surrounding communities, [FERC had found], consistent with the Certificate Policy Statement and NGA section 7(c), that the public convenience and necessity require[d] approval of [Transcontinental's] proposal." It further noted that the Dalton Expansion Project would provide "substantial benefits to the local economy," generating approximately $450 million in economic activity within the State of Georgia and employing 2, 170 workers during the construction phase.

         In light of those conclusions, the district court determined that Transcontinental was entitled to a preliminary injunction granting it immediate access to Defendants' properties, but the court limited such access to the locations depicted on the alignment sheets and survey plats. The district court further provided that Transcontinental could not enter any of the properties until it posted a bond equal to twice the appraised value of each property's easement. Because the parties had not yet submitted any documentation of the properties' appraised values, the district court ordered the parties to file a joint motion with an appraised value for each property's easement, and a proposed order directing Transcontinental to pay the appropriate bond. The district court noted that the appraisals would not bind any party during the compensation stage of the litigation.

         Shortly before the due date for the parties' joint motion on bond, Defendants filed a motion for an extension of time. Defendants asserted that, because the proposed easement terms described in Transcontinental's final offers and in the attachments to Transcontinental's complaint "contained ambiguities" and "uncertainties," many of the Defendants had avoided hiring appraisers until after the October 26, 2016, hearing. Defendants also stated that, because the district court declined to adopt Transcontinental's proposed easement terms, those appraisals that had been completed needed to be reevaluated. Moreover, Defendants asserted that, because the due date for the joint motion fell immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday, many appraisers were unavailable. The district court denied the motion.

         Unable to agree with most Defendants as to a bond amount, Transcontinental filed its own motions with appraised values for each of the easements by the deadline set by the court. Those values came from reports prepared by professional appraisers between November 2015 and October 2016. Transcontinental attached those reports to its motions.[7] Transcontinental proposed to satisfy its bond obligation by posting a surety bond in twice the appraised value of the easements.

         Between November 23, 2016, and November 29, 2016, Defendants filed their own notices and motions with proposed bond amounts.[8] With the exception of one Defendant, who was himself a real-estate professional, Defendants did not provide any professional estimate of the values of the easements. In addition, Defendants requested that Transcontinental be required to make a cash deposit rather than posting a surety bond. Defendants also requested that Transcontinental be required to notify them at least 48 hours in advance of any activities on their properties.

         In an order entered on December 2, 2016, the district court denied Defendants' request that Transcontinental be required to make a cash deposit, concluding that a surety bond would be "acceptable and sufficient to protect Defendants' adequate compensation." It also set the amount of bond Transcontinental would be required to post before entering each Defendant's property. Where the parties had agreed on the appraised value of the easement, the district court adopted that value to determine bond. Where the parties had disagreed, the district court weighed the evidence presented in support of each party's valuation, affording greater weight to the opinions of real-estate professionals. It ultimately required Transcontinental to post a surety bond in the total amount of $1, 152, 196 before entering any of the Defendants' properties.

         The district court granted Defendants' request for pre-access notice, and ordered Transcontinental to provide Defendants written notice at least 48 hours before entering or taking possession of their properties. Transcontinental was required to provide a description of the "nature and duration" of the activities it intended to conduct on the properties, as well as contact information for a person with site-specific authority over Transcontinental's activities on the property.

         G. Subsequent Proceedings and Developments

         In compliance with the district court's order, Transcontinental posted a surety bond on December 6, 2016, with Liberty Mutual Insurance Company acting as surety. Transcontinental also sent a letter to Defendants stating that it anticipated entering their properties on or about December 9, 2016, to begin construction. According to that letter, construction activity would begin primarily with staking, and activity was likely to slow during the holiday season. Construction would then resume in earnest on or about January 4, 2017. Transcontinental estimated that construction would take approximately 9 to 12 months. Once construction was complete, remediation would begin. Transcontinental also provided contact information for an individual with site-specific authority over its activities on the properties.

         On December 12, 2016, 34 Defendants filed a joint notice of appeal. These Defendants also moved the district court to stay its order allowing Transcontinental to immediately enter their properties pending the resolution of their appeal. In that motion, Defendants asserted that Transcontinental's letter was insufficient to satisfy the pre-access notice requirement in the district court's December 2, 2016, order. They asked that Transcontinental be required to give them notice in advance of each time that it planned to enter their properties, and to describe the activity that would occur on each occasion. They pointed out that many of them had children and would be hosting extended family for the holidays, and argued that the "generic" notice Transcontinental had provided was insufficient to allow them to plan around Transcontinental's activities on their properties. The district court temporarily stayed its orders pending its ruling on Defendants' motion.

         In response to Defendants' motion, Transcontinental produced a declaration from the Dalton Expansion Project's project manager stating that Transcontinental intended to stake all Defendants' properties within 10 days after being granted access. Accordingly, Transcontinental provided notice to all Defendants that it would be entering their properties on December 9, 2016. He further stated that Transcontinental would provide "each landowner with a minimum of 48 hours' additional notice" before using any heavy equipment on the property.

         On January 24, 2017, the district court lifted its temporary stay and denied Defendants' motion for a stay pending appeal. The district court also concluded that Transcontinental's December 2016 letter was sufficient to satisfy the pre-access notice requirement in its December 2, 2016, order.

         Defendants then filed a motion in this Court seeking a stay of the district court's orders pending the resolution of their appeal. This Court temporarily stayed the district court's orders pending a ruling on Defendants' motion. On February 2, 2017, this Court vacated its ...


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