Gas opponent attorney asks court to join landowners to case
BY STACI WILSON
A lawyer for natural gas opponent Vera Scroggins was back in court Tuesday arguing to have landowners leased with Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation joined to the permanent injunction the company is seeking to have placed against her.
Cabot was granted a preliminary injunction in October 2013 barring Scroggins from its leased and owned properties; the preliminary injunction was modified by the court after a hearing in March to keep Scroggins from Cabot property and leased properties where active operations are taking place.
Scroggins was not present in the courtroom on Tuesday. Attorney Gerald Kinchy made the arguments to join the landowners before President Judge Kenneth Seamans.
Kinchy argued that there was no law that prohibited landowners from coming onto an active natural gas site or would preclude them from sending Scroggins to the well area to check on safety concerns.
The judge asked why Scroggins should be allowed where there may be a dangerous situation.
“It’s not always dangerous,” Kinchy answered.
Judge Seamans questioned the attorney from the bench. “Why does she have any standing to compel landowners as part of the suit? You’re asking (the Court) to join thousands of landowners.”
Kinchy said that an injunction against Scroggins could adversely affect the property owners and their right to access operations on their own land.
He said landowners may want his client to make certain Cabot is working in a safe manor and would want to hire Scroggins to do that for them. “She has the resources and experience to do that,” Kinchy said.
The judge countered, “Don’t we have someone doing it? DEP, EPA or both.”
“Aren’t there hundred of infractions enforced by the DEP?” asked the judge.
“Yes,” Kinchy answered.
“Then aren’t they doing their job,” answered Judge Seamans.
The judge told Kinchy that although no criminal charges had been brought against his client, Scroggins had been determined to be a trespasser by the court. “No charges are needed to be determined by the court,” Judge Seamans said.
Cabot has sought written letters from its leaseholders that would keep Scroggins from coming onto their land, confirmed Cabot Attorney Amy Barrette.
Barrette said that while Scroggins may be interested in visiting the drilling sites, “At the end of the day, it’s about safety. She’s putting herself and workers in harm’s way, including landowners.”
She told the court that Cabot reached out to landowners. “Not one owner (with active operations) has contacted Cabot to say we want her on their property.”
Scroggins attempt to have landowners joined to the case is a “ploy” to change a civil trespass case to one of “convoluted constitutional issues,” states a brief filed with the court by Cabot in answer to Scroggins motion.
The judge said he would take the arguments into consideration.
On April 16, Judge Seamans handed down an order and opinion denying Scroggins’ motion to compel discovery.
Scroggins had also motioned that a list of witnesses Cabot planned to present at trial be provided to her. The judge ruled that the witness list request was “premature.”
The case is expected to head to trial in June in Susquehanna County Court.