Articles Posted in U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

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NCUC challenged incentives granted by FERC to VEPCO to encourage investment in transmission infrastructure projects. The court held that FERC properly exercised its broad discretion in declining to apply the 2010 policy change in its Rehearing Order and in evaluating VEPCO's application for incentives. Accordingly, the court granted FERC's grant of incentives to VEPCO under section 219 of the Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. 824s(c). View "North Carolina Utilities Comm'n v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against Chesapeake seeking an injunction and damages based on claims arising from the drilling and operation by Chesapeake of three natural gas wells on surface property owned by plaintiffs. Chesapeake owns lease rights to minerals beneath plaintiffs' surface property and the property rights of both parties ultimately flowed from two severance deeds that originally split the surface and mineral estates of the 101 acres of land plaintiffs owned. The only issue on appeal was whether the district court erred when it granted summary judgment for Chesapeake on plaintiffs' claim for common law trespass. The court concluded that the district court was correct to hold that creating drill waste pits was reasonably necessary for recovery of natural gas and did not impose a substantial burden on plaintiffs' surface property, that creation of the pits was consistent with Chesapeake's rights under its lease, was a practice common to natural gas wells in West Virginia, and consistent with requirements of applicable rules and regulations for the protection of the environment. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Whiteman v. Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case involved two common methods employed to blend ethanol with conventional gasoline: inline blending and splash blending. Plaintiffs, API and AFPMA, brought federal preemption-based challenges in the district court seeking to enjoin enforcement of North Carolina's Ethanol Blending Statute, N.C. Gen. Stat. 75-90. Although the court agreed with the district court insofar as it rejected plaintiffs' Petroleum Marketing Practices Act (PMPA), 15 U.S.C. 2801-2841, and federal renewable fuel program preemption challenges, the court held that genuine issues of material fact remained unresolved as to plaintiffs' Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051-1113, preemption challenge to the Blending Statute. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "American Petroleum Institute v. Cooper, III" on Justia Law

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Westmoreland challenged an ALJ's decision, affirmed by the Benefits Review Board, to award black lung benefits to one of Westmoreland's former employees. The ALJ found that the evidence failed to establish that the employee suffered from clinical pneumoconiosis but did establish that the employee suffered from legal pneumoconiosis. Regarding this legal pneumoconiosis finding, the ALJ chose to credit one medical opinion over others. The ALJ also found that the employee was totally disabled as a result of his pneumoconiosis and thus awarded him benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901 et seq. The court concluded that the ALJ's decision and order to award benefits was supported by substantial evidence, rational, and consistent with applicable law. Therefore, the Board did not err in affirming the ALJ's decision and order, and the court accordingly denied Westmoreland's petition for review. View "Westmoreland Coal Co. v. Cochran" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from Washington Gas' request to expand a natural gas substation (County Zoning Plans). On appeal, Washington Gas challenged the district court's order dismissing Washington Gas' mandatory referral claim and the district court's subsequent order granting summary judgment on Washington Gas' federal preemption claims. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the mandatory referral claim pursuant to Burford v. Sun Oil; the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act (PSA), 49 U.S.C. 60102, 60104, did not preempt the County Zoning Plans because the PSA only preempted safety regulations and the County Zoning Plans were not safety regulations; and the Natural Gas Act (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717, did not preempt the County Zoning Plans because Washington Gas was a local distributor of natural gas and, therefore, was not subject to the NGA. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Washington Gas Light Co. v. Prince George's County Council" on Justia Law

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BP appealed a district court order granting summary judgment in favor of Charles V. Stanley, Jr., and his business (defendants), in BP's action seeking to enforce a restrictive covenant in a deed. BP also appealed the district court's award of attorneys' fees and costs. The court held that the district court erred in finding the Petroleum Restriction (PR), in the Special Warranty Deed that was attached to the Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA) at issue, was overbroad and unenforceable where the PR did not prohibit Stanley from operating a non-BP-branded vehicle repair business on his property so long as the business did not also sell non-BP-branded gasoline. The court also concluded that the PR's prohibition of the sale of certain enumerated items was too inconsequential to invalidate the entire PR. Therefore, the PR on the whole "afford[s] a fair protection" to BP's interest without being "so large as to interfere with the interests of the public." Therefore, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants, vacated the fee and cost award, remanding for further proceedings. View "BP Products North America, Inc. v. Stanley, Jr." on Justia Law

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The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) petitioned for review of a final rule promulgated by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) setting forth energy conservation standards for electric induction motors ranging in power output from .25 to 3 horsepower (Final Rule). In promulgating the Final Rule, the DOE invoked its authority to establish energy conservation standards for "small electric motor[s]," a term defined by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), 42 U.S.C. 6311(13)(G). NEMA contended that the relevant statutory definition unambiguously excluded all such motors exceeding 1 horsepower, as well as certain motors rated at and less than 1 horsepower, from being regulated as small electric motors. The court held that the Final Rule embodied a permissible interpretation of the statutory definition and therefore, denied the petition for review. View "National Electrical Manufacturers Assoc. v. U.S. Dept. of Energy, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, operator of an electricity plant, sued defendant ("the county"), seeking to enjoin Expedited Bill 29-10, which imposed a levy on large stationary emitters of carbon dioxide within the county, on the ground that it violated the United States and Maryland Constitutions. At issue was whether a Montgomery County exaction on carbon dioxide emissions, levied only upon plaintiff's electricity-generating facility, was a tax or a fee. The court held that the carbon charge, which targeted a single emitter and was located squarely within the county's own "programmatic efforts to reduce" greenhouse gas emissions, was a punitive and regulatory fee over which the federal courts retained jurisdiction. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.