I recently wrote about the emergency petition filed with the Public Utility Commission by the management of Glen Riddle Station Apartments. Glen Riddle residents were alarmed by the recent posting of signs reading “DANGER/Construction Zone/Keep 100 Yds. Away From Work Activities” in the midst of their complex. If taken literally, the signs would indicate that most of the apartments in the complex are in the danger zone. (I assume the message of the signs was only meant to be “keep away from our worksite.” But in fact, the presence of an active line carrying highly volatile natural gas liquids only a few feet from the pipe being installed really does mean that those apartment-dwellers are endangered.)
Back in December, management at Glen Riddle had already filed a formal complaint with the PUC about the dangerous conditions there; the emergency petition was filed as a supplement to that complaint. The emergency petition was subsequently withdrawn, leaving just the December formal complaint to be resolved.
Dozens of documents. As part of the “discovery” process leading to the resolution of the December complaint, Sunoco submitted a long list of requests for information and documents. Glen Riddle provided some of the information and documents, and Sunoco dropped its requests for others. But 10 remained in dispute, awaiting a ruling by the judge.
The judge denied all 10 of them, characterizing them as a “fishing expedition.” He summed up his opinion by saying: “… these requests are not relevant. In addition, some of these requests are overly broad or unreasonably annoying.” You can download the full opinion here.
Given that the underlying complaint has to do with whether conditions at the site are unsafe, it’s clear what the judge meant: Sunoco was requesting things that had nothing to do with the actual subject of the complaint. Here are the 10 requests that were dismissed.
Interrogatory requests (requests for written answers):
Set I, No. 9: Sunoco requested that Glen Riddle identify all communications between it and eight named people. (They were all well-known pipeline safety advocates in Delaware and Chester counties, including people who had not had any connection whatsoever with Glen Riddle protests or PUC actions.) The judge wrote that “all communications” was too broad, adding “Such requests are a fishing expedition, which the Commission discourages.” But he did leave open the possibility of a “more narrowly tailored” request.
Set I, No. 10: Sunoco requested “any document related to a rent abatement program for Glen Riddle residents.” The judge found this not to be relevant.
Set I, No. 11: Sunoco requested “[the name of] the apartment or other manager for the property and any leasing agents.” Not relevant.
Set I, No. 12: Sunoco requested that Glen Riddle identify all tenants who have vacated their apartment at Glen Riddle in the last six months. Not relevant.
Set I, No. 14: Sunoco requested the vacancy rate or number of vacant units and their building as of the first of each month for September, 2020 through February, 2021. Not relevant.
Set I, No. 12: Sunoco requested “all documents related to the Mama Bear Brigade protest event started at the property on January 30, 2021.” The judge responded that “It is unclear how the purported protest at the property … is adequately relevant to the issues raised in the complaint … to warrant granting [this Sunoco request]”.
Set I, No. 14, 15, 16, and 17: Sunoco requested a sample lease for the Glen Riddle Apartments; a sample application for tenancy at the Glen Riddle Apartments; any documents evidencing rules, regulations or requirements of tenants at the Glen Riddle Apartments and all marketing materials, brochures and websites for Glen Riddle Apartments from the last two years. The judge found these not to be relevant.
Is it “discovery” or is it harassment? As a defendant in this case, Sunoco has a right to obtain relevant documents from Glen Riddle. But it doesn’t have the right to put an unnecessary burden on Glen Riddle management, which is attempting to protect the tenant population.
In this case, as in many others, Sunoco tries every possible scheme to make it hard on those who attempt to bring to light its abuse of laws and regulations. Sunoco has an army of lawyers working with a budget that seems practically unlimited. Time and time again, I have sat in courtrooms and hearing rooms and watched a single lawyer attempting to limit Sunoco’s abuses while being attacked by a team of half a dozen or more Sunoco lawyers.
In this particular instance, the judge was able to see Sunoco’s efforts for what they actually were: legal harassment.