Monday, August 24, 2020

Riverside County Transp. Comm'n v. So. Cal. Gas Co. (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 24, 2020)

This is an exceedingly well-written opinion.

That's no small feat, too; particularly given its length.  It's hard to write a clear, coherent, targeted and concise opinion.  It's even harder to do so when you've got to maintain that level of quality for, as here, 79 pages.

Yet Justice Ramirez does precisely that.

When I first started reading the opinion, I thought it was authored by someone else.  The opinion begins like this:

"This case presents questions that have recurred at least since the 1860s (see, e.g., Water Com’rs of Jersey City v. City of Hudson (N.J. Ch. 1861) 13 N.J. Eq. 420), when rail lines, macadamized streets, water pipelines, sewer pipelines, gas pipelines, and soon electrical lines all began to proliferate across America: When the time comes to install or to improve any one of these modern conveniences, what is to be done about another one that stands in its way? Can one force the other to relocate? And if so, who must pay for the relocation?

Obviously, each of these cases is unique in some respects. Nevertheless, we discern a theme that runs through them: You can’t stand in the way of progress.

So it is here. The Riverside County Transportation Commission (Commission) sought to extend its Metrolink commuter rail line from Riverside to Perris, using the route of a preexisting rail line that it had acquired. At five points, however, the new rail line would cross gas pipelines owned by the Southern California Gas Company (Gas Company). The Gas Company had installed these pipelines under city streets decades earlier, pursuant to franchises granted by the relevant cities and, in some instances, pursuant to licenses granted by the then-owner of the preexisting rail line. The new rail line could not be built as long as the pipelines remained in place.

The Commission terminated the licenses and demanded that the Gas Company relocate its pipelines at its own expense. The parties agreed that the Gas Company would relocate its pipelines, to other points also owned by the Commission, and the Commission would pay the estimated expenses, but only provisionally; the Commission could still sue for reimbursement, and the Gas Company could then sue for any additional expenses.

The trial court ruled that the Gas Company had to bear all of the costs of relocation — in other words, you can’t stand in the way of progress. However, it also ruled that the Gas Company had never trespassed on the Commission’s land.

Both sides appeal. We will hold that that the Gas Company did have to bear all of the costs of relocation. However, we will also hold that, at those points where the Gas Company held licenses for its pipelines, once the Commission terminated the licenses, the Gas Company could be held liable for trespass."

That's a great introduction and summary.  And the rest of the 70-plus pages are very concise and on-point responsive to the various arguments that the parties make.

I wish my briefs were written half as well as this opinion.  Well done, Justice Ramirez.