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ZK Result – Pennsylvania Superior Court Affirms Entry of Summary Judgment on Trespass Claim

On February 19, 2016, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendants in the case of Keystone River Properties, Inc. v. Canestrale, 445 WDA 2015, 2016 WL 689085. Joseph F. Butcher and Janine E. Smith represented the defendants in the case, which stemmed from the removal of a railroad bridge resulting in Plaintiff’s claim of trespass.  The facts involved in the case were that Monessen Southwestern Railroad Company (“Monessen”) owned a parcel of land in Rostraver Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. On May 25, 1931, Monessen conveyed a strip of land running through their parcel of land to the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway Company (“Pitt–WV”). As part of the conveyance, which divided Monessen’s land into northern and southern portions, Monessen reserved an easement for use of a railroad bridge over the railroad on Pitt–WV’s property. On September 4, 1980, Monessen filed an application with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) seeking authorization to abandon all of its railroad tracks located in Rostraver Township and to cease its operations. Monessen’s application was ultimately granted, and it ceased all operations in 1986.

 

Monessen sold its interest in the land, both the northern and southern portions, to the Canestrales in 1990. On July 11, 1997, the Canestrales conveyed the southern portion of the land (7.2145 acres) to Keystone. The conveyance included the parcel of the property abutting the railroad bridge connecting the two portions of property. Keystone leased the property to Three Rivers Marine & Rail Terminals (“Three Rivers”), which operates an intermodal transloading terminal on the property. In 2008, the Canestrales removed the bridge and installed it on their property in La Belle, Pennsylvania. Keystone discovered that the bridge had been removed in January 2009. On January 30, 2009, Keystone filed a Complaint against the Canestrales. Keystone alleged, inter alia, that it had an easement to use the bridge over the Pitt–WV property based upon a Monessen deed that retained the easement. Keystone claimed that the Canestrales violated its property rights by removing the bridge. The Canestrales filed an Answer and New Matter, and Keystone filed a Reply to New Matter.

 

Following discovery, the Canestrales filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. The trial court granted the Canestrales’ Motion, entered summary judgment in their favor, and dismissed Keystone’s Complaint, with prejudice. On appeal, the Superior Court found that because the easement was given for a specific purpose, i.e., a railroad bridge, it terminated as soon as the use for that purpose was abandoned.  The Superior Court concluded that the trial court did not err as a matter of law or make improper factual determinations when it held that (1) Monessen had abandoned its railroad bridge; (2) as a result of Monessen’s abandonment, the railroad bridge right-of-way was extinguished; (3) the Canestrales did not transfer a valid right-of-way to Keystone; and (4) Keystone had no enforceable rights with regard to the abandoned easement.