Subject Matter Jurisdiction • Municipal Ordinances • Seismic Agreements

Seitel Data, Ltd. v. Center Twp., PICS Case No. 14-0370 (Pa. Commw. March 7, 2014) McCullough, J. (24 pages).

Seitel requested equitable and declaratory relief against three municipalities seeking to declare invalid or enjoin the enforcement of contractual agreements and/or resolutions that allegedly violated due process and equal protection and were preempted by 58 Pa.C.S. §3302. The municipalities filed preliminary objections contending that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear Seitel’s claims because none of the municipalities currently have a resolution or ordinance that regulates oil or gas operations. Objections granted.

Seitel had contracts with property owners in several townships and boroughs to conduct seismic surveys on their properties to look for data useful to the oil and gas industries. Seitel also had the necessary permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Transportation, including a blasting permit to conduct seismic surveys. Seitel alleged that Center Township, Shippingport Borough and Greene Township either enacted, or considered enacting resolutions similar to the laws in the Hopewell and Potter cases, or sought to execute contractual agreements with terms that mirrored the requirements and provisions of the resolution and ordinances in the Hopewell and Potter cases. Seitel alleged a pattern of conduct on the part of the townships and borough that subjected Seitel to unreasonable delay and ever-changing requirements in order to conduct seismic activities.

Center Township and Shippingport Borough argued that the court lacked jurisdiction and that Seitel failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because they did not enact a resolution or ordinance regulating seismic operations and under §3306(1), and that the court had no jurisdiction because there was no ordinance to invalidate or enjoin from enforcement. Seitel contended that the court’s jurisdiction under §3306(1) was not limited to matters concerning just ordinances and that the regulations imposed by the seismic agreements are sufficient to confer jurisdiction.

Greene Township contended that the court lacks jurisdiction because, although Greene Township had adopted a seismic resolution, it rescinded that resolution following the judge’s order in the Hopewell and Potter cases.

Section 3306(1) vests the court with original jurisdiction in the limited situation where a person is aggrieved by “the enactment or enforcement of a local ordinance” that violates the municipalities planning code or chapter 32. The unambiguous language of §3306(1) demonstrates that the court has original jurisdiction only if there is an “ordinance” that is “enacted” or sought to be “enforced.” Seitel conceded that Center Township and Shippingport Borough had not enacted an ordinance or resolution that regulated seismic activities. While Center Township and Shippingport Borough sought to impose the conditions of the seismic agreements on Seitel, these agreements, regardless of their terms or the underlying intent of the municipalities, could not be viewed as a duly enacted ordinance.

Additionally, Seitel failed to allege sufficient facts to show that Green’s seismic resolution was a duly enacted ordinance and even if it was, Greene rescinded the resolution and it was no longer enforceable. Thus, the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because there is no “ordinance” currently present in the case that regulates seismic activity.

The court granted the municipalities’ preliminary objections due to the lack of subject matter jurisdiction and transferred the matter to the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County.