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Lewis v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson Division

April 28, 2017

Eric M. Lewis and Scott Lewis, Plaintiffs,
v.
Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P.; Kinder Morgan Management, LLC; Kinder Morgan, Inc.; Kinder Morgan G.P., Inc.; and Plantation Pipe Line Company, Inc., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          Henry M. Herlong, Jr. Senior United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the court on Defendants Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P., Kinder Morgan Management, LLC, Kinder Morgan, Inc., Kinder Morgan G.P., Inc. (collectively “Kinder Morgan”) and Plantation Pipe Line Company, Inc.'s (“PPL”) motion for partial summary judgment or, alternatively for a bifurcated trial. After consideration, the court denies the Defendants' motion.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         This is an action arising out of a petroleum leak from an underground pipeline (“Pipeline”) on Plaintiffs Eric and Scott Lewis' property, which is located in Anderson County, South Carolina near Belton, South Carolina (“Property”). PPL owns and operates the 3, 100 mile pipeline that originates in Louisiana and ends in Washington, D.C. (Defs. Mem. Supp. Partial Summ. J. 2, ECF No. 91-1.) Kinder Morgan's pipeline network is over 84, 000 miles of pipeline. (Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 1-1.) PPL is owned and operated by Kinder Morgan. (Id. ¶ 7, ECF No. 1-1.) The Pipeline is located on the Defendants' easement on the Property. (Defs. Mem. Supp. Partial Summ. J. 6, ECF No. 91-1.) In December 2014, a leak caused by the failure of a patch over a dent was discovered on a section of the Pipeline located on the Property. (Id. at 2, ECF No. 91-1.) The leak resulted in a discharge of an estimated 369, 000 gallons of petroleum. (Id., ECF No. 91-1.) The Pipeline leak was repaired within a few days of discovering the leak and remediation efforts commenced. (Id., ECF No. 91-1.)

         The Plaintiffs instituted this action on November 5, 2015, in state court alleging claims for negligence, trespass, punitive damages, and injunctive relief. The Plaintiffs allege that the petroleum leak has permanently impaired the Property. The Defendants removed the case to this court.

         On March 30, 2017, the Defendants filed the instant motion requesting that the court:

(1) dismiss Plaintiffs' claims to the extent they relate to the 1990 dent repair [based on the 13-year statute of repose set forth in S.C. Code § 15-3-640]; (2) dismiss Plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages or, alternatively, order that the trial in this case be bifurcated for purposes of liability and damages; and (3) limit Plaintiffs' recovery to the depreciation in the rental or usable value of the Lewis Property caused by the petroleum impacts to the Lewis Property.

         (Mot. Partial Summ. J., ECF No. 91.) The Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition on April 13, 2017. (Resp. Opp'n Mot. Partial Summ. J., ECF No. 93.) On April 25, 2017, the Defendants replied. (Reply, ECF No. 98.) This matter is now ripe for consideration.

         II. Discussion of the Law

         A. Partial Summary Judgment Standard

         Partial summary judgment “is merely a pretrial adjudication that certain issues shall be deemed established for the trial of the case.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 advisory committee's note (1946). A motion for partial summary judgment is judged by the same standard as a full motion for summary judgment. In re Boston Sci. Corp., Pelvic Repair Sys. Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 2:12-cv-00904, 2015 WL 1527678, at *1 (S.D. W.Va. Apr. 2, 2015) (unpublished). Summary judgment is appropriate only “if 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(a). In deciding whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the evidence of the non-moving party is to be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in his favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. at 248.

         A litigant “cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another.” Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, disposition by summary judgment is appropriate.” Monahan v. Cty. of Chesterfield, 95 F.3d 1263, 1265 (4th Cir. 1996). “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Ballenger v. N.C. Agric. Extension Serv., 815 F.2d 1001, 1005 (4th Cir. 1987).

         B. Discussion of the Law

         1. 1990 Dent Repair Claims

         The Defendants argue that the Plaintiffs' claims that the Defendants were negligent with respect to the 1990 dent repair are barred by the 13-year statute of repose set forth in S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-640.[1] (Defs. Mem. Opp'n Mot. Partial Summ. J. 4, ECF No. 91-1.) Section 15-3-640 provides in pertinent part:

[n]o actions to recover damages based upon or arising out of the defective or unsafe condition of an improvement to real property may be brought more than thirteen years after substantial completion of the improvement. For purposes of this section, an action based upon or arising out of the defective or unsafe condition of an improvement to real property includes:
(1) an action to recover damages for breach of a contract to construct or repair an ...

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