The US Court of Appeals of the Third Circuit Tuesday ruled against Adelphia Gateway, LLC (Adelphia) in a challenge to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Hearing Board’s jurisdiction to hear challenges to Adelphia’s planned natural gas compressor project. Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro authored the opinion of the court.
The court ruled that Adelphia’s claim was precluded by issue preclusion under 28 U.S.C. § 1738. This law requires federal courts to accord “full faith and credit” to issues decided by state courts. The court reasoned that Adelphia already had a “full and fair opportunity to litigate” the issue. The court also ruled that the Natural Gas Act does not preempt Pennsylvania’s administrative review process of DEP decisions.
Adelphia received approval from the Federal Energy Regulation Commission to construct the compressor project pursuant to the Natural Gas Act. Later, Adelphia got approval from DEP. The DEP approval provided that “[a]ny person aggrieved… may appeal the action to the Environmental Hearing Board.” Several town residents then filed challenges to the approval of the construction project.
Adelphia argued that the Natural Gas Act preempts the board from hearing challenges and appealed to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. The court ruled that the board has jurisdiction to hear the challenges. Adelphia then promptly filed a complaint in federal court to challenge the Commonwealth Court’s decision. The US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that issue preclusion doctrine barred it from hearing Adelphia’s federal claim, and the Third Circuit affirmed.