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Township of Piscataway v. Duke Energy

488 F.3d 203 (3rd Cir. 2007)

EASEMENTS; TREES — A utility company may remove trees from an easement it holds if it can show that removal of the trees is reasonably necessary for the maintenance of the utility lines within the easement.

A group of homeowners initiated litigation to prevent a utility company from removing fifty shade trees planted along a public street in a municipality. Predecessors in title to the homeowners in the lawsuit had granted a utility company and its successors an easement to lay, operate, and maintain natural gas pipelines. As a result of subsequent residential development of the property, the land on which the easement was located became a one block long public street. There were a large number of shade trees along the street, some as high as seventy five feet. The homeowners viewed the trees as extensions of their front yards. The United States District Court, hearing the matter based on its diversity jurisdiction, found the company failed to proffer any evidence that removal of the trees was reasonably necessary for the maintenance of the pipelines.

The matter was appealed to the Court of Appeals. That Court held that the utility company introduced sufficient evidence to raise a triable issue as to whether aerial surveillance was inadequate to examine whether the pipelines were required and, if so, whether the shade trees prevented such surveillance, and also if the trees prevented emergency access to the pipelines. As such, the Court remanded the matter for trial to determine whether removal of the trees was or was not reasonably necessary to the safe maintenance of the pipelines.

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