Appalachian Basin

Judge Dismisses Property Damage Claim in Dimock Case, Value Actually Increased

The Dimock trial continues to get more interesting.  This week, federal judge Martin Carlson threw out the plaintiffs’ claim that gas drilling had devalued their property.  In fact, evidence produced by the plaintiffs show that their property has actually seen what the judge called a “dramatic increase” in value since drilling began in the area.

As the judge explained in his ruling,

“This is a diversity case. And so sitting as a federal judge exercising diversity jurisdiction I am required to apply the law of Pennsylvania to the claims of these plaintiffs against the defendant. And one of those claims is a negligence claim in which it is alleged that there was permanent damage done to real property. It is well settled case allegiant in Pennsylvania that in order to establish a negligence claim relating to permanent damage to real property, that the plaintiffs must prove – must prove actual damages, and that is done by proving the difference between the value of the property prior to any injury that may have been suffered and the value of the property after any injury has been suffered. The diminution in value of the property in a case where it is alleged like this case, the damage was permanent in the nature of damages under Pennsylvania law. As I noted in prior opinions, prior rulings cases the allegiant in that preinspect. While these dollar values need not be set with mathematical precision, it is also clear under Pennsylvania law that there must be some evidence as to the elements of these damages.” (emphasis added)

Judge Carlson continued,

“And our research has revealed that where there’s a failure of proof as the damages value of property prior to any damage or failure of proof as to a diminution of value, Pennsylvania courts have repeatedly either dismissed or denied claims relating to permanent property damage.” (emphasis added)

With the requirements evidence had to meet established, Judge Carlson next elaborated on why the Ely’s provided a clear lack of evidence. As the judge asserted,

“In this case I carefully studied the testimony of Mr. Ely which was the only testimony that went to these issues in my estimation and only testimony identified by any of the parties relating to these issues. And carefully studying that testimony I found no evidence that would allow a jury to reach any sort of judgement on the preinjury value of this property.” (emphasis added)

Judge Carlson made this point not just once, but multiple times, citing the fact that a valuation of the property was not given by the plaintiffs during the trial, but instead submitted at the last minute prior to the trial resuming on Monday. To this, the judge again noted insufficient evidence to support their claim, stating,

“…therefore given the untimeliness of it [the valuation], disputed nature of it, and that fact there was ample opportunity to present this evidence at an earlier date, I am not prepared nor am I inclined to take judicial notice of this fact. And therefore, I find as to the first element of permanent real property damage claim, that is proof of the value of the property prior to injury that there’s been a failure of proof by the plaintiffs.” (emphasis added)

In fact, the Judge Carlson pointed out that not only did the plaintiffs not provide evidence that their property value diminished, they actually showed the value of the property increased. As the judge explained,

And with respect to this property, the only evidence that I have received from the plaintiffs is evidence that indicates a dramatic increase in the value of the property.” (emphasis added)

The fact that their property’s value actually rose significantly rather than fell, further illustrates the misconception pushed by anti-fracking activists that shale development drives down property values. As EID recently highlighted, property values, in general, go up in areas where shale development is taking place. EID found that some of the most heavily developed counties in Pennsylvania, such as Bradford and Washington Counties, have actually seen significant increases in property values since 2009, when shale development really took off.

The dismissal of this negligence claim, along with Ingraffea’s testimony that he has no experience whatsoever with shale development, and the fact that methane is historically naturally occurring in Pennsylvania water wells, shows just how wrong those activists are about the impacts of fracking.

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