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Crum v. Equitrans, LP

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville

May 12, 2014

EULA CONLEY CRUM, Plaintiff,
v.
EQUITRANS, LP, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

KAREN K. CALDWELL, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment brought by Defendant Equitrans, LP. (DE 29). Equitrans contends that the evidence in the record cannot sustain a finding of causation, and Equitrans is therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law. For the following reasons, the Court will grant the defendant's motion and this matter will be dismissed.

I.

Eula Conley Crum brings this common-law action for negligence against Equitrans, in which she claims that Equitrans was negligent in the construction of its pipe line, and that its negligence caused damage to her real property. Her claim is fairly straightforward: she asserts that Equitrans was "negligent in re-establishing the drainage and proper flow of water from the adjacent properties, " and that such negligence "caus[ed] a landslide to damage the Plaintiff's" property. (Complaint, DE 1-2, ΒΆ 5). In addition to compensatory damages, Crum seeks punitive damages due to Equitrans' reckless disregard for her property. As to her damages, Crum claims that her house and its foundation have been damaged due to the defendant's negligence. In an interrogatory, Crum was asked to "[q]uantify each and every item of damage, whether special, general, compensatory, punitive, or otherwise, claimed by Plaintiff in this action, describe the method of calculation of said damages, and itemize each category of damages (including punitive damages) claimed or sought." (Interrogatory No. 5, DE 21, at 2). Her response stated the following:

Because of the incorrect installation of gas lines on the side of the mountain and negligence in correcting the problem after numerous calls and complaints, the hill behind my house slipped and it cause damaged [sic] to Plaintiff's house damaging both the house and the foundation.

(Answer to Interrogatory No. 5, DE 21, at 2). Crum further stated that this damage has made it "impossible to sell [the house] for what the fair market value would have been." Id. Crum then provided a more in-depth explanation of the damage to her house in her deposition:

The brick was cracked, the concrete porch was pulled away from its foundation or its, you know, from my front door. The foundation was cracked. I mean, you know, it was an impact and a half that come off that hill. You know, the backyard is gone, so.

(Crum Depo., DE 31, at 29).

But Crum has not provided any evidence demonstrating a causal link between the alleged damage to her house and the activities of Equitrans. At her deposition, Crum was asked whether she had anyone with expertise determine whether the damage to her house was caused by the landslide:

Q: As far as the damage that you say that occurred to the house, have you had an engineer or anyone like that come out and take a look at it to try to determine if it's related to the slide?
A: I just had my - well, I know that before, I mean, everything I put on that was new. It never had cracked before. It's just, all of a sudden, it cracked after this slide. I mean it was an impact and a half coming off that hillside.
Q: All right. But you've not had an engineer or anyone like that come out?
A: No, I've just had an appraisal, you know.

(Crum Depo., DE 31, at 29-30).

Crum has also relied on the testimony of three witnesses to support her allegation that Equitrans caused damage to her house through its negligence in constructing the pipeline. Ruby Conley, a neighbor of Crum's, testified as to her personal opinion about the value of Crum's residence. (Conley Depo., DE 40-2, at 6) ("And I was in [the house] after all this, and I wouldn't give her 2500 for it myself."). But when asked whether the landslide "actually reached the house where Eula lives, " Ruby said, "Now, that, I couldn't tell you. I don't really know...." (Conley Depo., DE 40-2, at 8). As Conley does not possess any sort of expertise about pipeline construction, landslides, home appraisals, or engineering, her testimony during the deposition lacked any explanation as to how Equitrans was negligent and how that negligence might have caused the damage of which Crum complains.

The second witness Crum relies on is Otis Hansel Cooley, Sr., a realtor and appraiser. Cooley appraised Crum's property at her request, and Crum informed him she had some damage to her house due to slippage. In making his appraisal, however, Cooley did not attempt to assess what caused the damage:

Q: Okay. And did you make any determination - were you asked to or did you attempt to make any determination as to the cause ...

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