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Chace v. Magellan Ammonia Pipeline, L.P.

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

January 2, 2019

STEVEN CHACE, Plaintiff,


          Joseph F. Bataillon Senior United States District Judge.

         Steven Chace (hereinafter Chace) is suing Magellan Ammonia Pipeline, L.P. and Magellan Midstream Partners, L.P. (collectively “Magellan”) under six theories of recovery. Four are state law claims: strict liability, negligence, nuisance, and trespass. One is a federal law claim: Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA) (42 U.S.C. § 6972(a)(1)(B)). One invokes both state and federal law: Inverse Condemnation (U.S. Const. amend. V; Neb. Const. art. I, § 21). Chace alleges that Magellan operated its anhydrous ammonia pipeline unlawfully and seeks relief for damages resulting from the release of ammonia onto Chace's property. Defendants have moved to dismiss this case under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Filing No. 12.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The plaintiff, Steven Chace, lives and owns property in Burt County, Nebraska. Chace is an environmental scientist and an avid outdoorsman. Filing No. 1, ¶ 12. The defendants, Magellan Midstream Partners, L.P. and its wholly-owned, indirect subsidiary, Magellan Ammonia Pipeline, L.P., are Delaware limited partnerships. Filing No. 13-1, ¶ 4. Magellan operates a pipeline by easement across Chace's land. Filing No. 1, ¶ 10. The pipeline carries anhydrous ammonia. Id.

         In late 2012, Chace began to suspect that the ammonia pipeline was leaking. Id. at ¶ 13. He noticed dead plants above the pipeline and smelled ammonia around the pipeline. Id. He reported the leak to Magellan in May 2013, and a Magellan repair team unearthed the pipeline and put a collar on the pipeline to plug the leak. Id. at ¶ 14.

         During the night of October 17, 2016, Chace woke up choking. Id. at ¶ 14, ¶ 21. He smelled ammonia in his house, and when he looked out of his windows, he saw a cloud of anhydrous ammonia enveloping his home. Id. at ¶ 21. The pipeline had ruptured and was releasing more than 80, 000 gallons of ammonia into the air. Id. at ¶ 19.

         Chace knew the ammonia could kill him. Id. at ¶ 22. Still, he stayed in the ammonia cloud long enough to dial 911, to warn his neighbors of the danger, and to arrange to block the road, protecting those who might stumble into the danger unaware. After doing all he could do, Chace fled his home on foot, running for his life. Id. at ¶ 2, ¶ 22.

         Chace escaped, but not all of his neighbors made it out alive. Chace watched as one of his neighbors-too far away to be helped-died in the ammonia cloud. Filing No. 1, ¶ 2.

         Chace filed the Complaint on March 3, 2018, seeking relief from Magellan for the damages he attributes to the ammonia release. These damages include the impairment of Chace's eyes, lungs, and kidneys; unremitting pain in his extremities; and the loss of higher intellectual functions and earning potential. Filing No. 1, ¶ 25.

         Magellan filed a motion to dismiss. Filing No. 12. Magellan asserts that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over this case (Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1)) and that Chace has failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted (Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)). Chace and Magellan have briefed the motion to dismiss.


         A. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)

         Under the Federal Rules, a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 n.3. (2007). “Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In order to survive a motion to dismiss under, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds for his entitlement to relief necessitates that the complaint contain “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is “a context specific task” that requires the court “to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Under Twombly, a court considering a motion to dismiss may begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. Although legal conclusions “can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Id. Courts follow a “two-pronged approach” to evaluate Rule 12(b)(6) challenges. Id. First, a court divides the allegations between factual and legal allegations; factual allegations should be accepted as true, but legal allegations should be disregarded. Id. Second, the factual allegations must be parsed for facial plausibility. Id.

         “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678 (stating that the plausibility standard does not require a probability, but asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.). The court must find enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest that discovery will reveal evidence of the elements of the claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558, 556. When the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of ...

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