A couple may proceed with their lawsuit aiming to rid their property of cable lines and equipment installed by cable provider Comcast, a Lawrence County judge has ruled.
In an eight-page opinion, Common Pleas President Judge Dominick Motto advanced Thomas and Micheline Dickson's complaint seeking an ejectment order, dismissing Comcast's preliminary objections.
In denying Comcast's objections, other legal arguments turned on the underlying complaint.
Judge Motto said it is Comcast's burden to prove that its cable equipment adjoins the "area to be served" contemplated by the federal statute and, so far, it has not.
Comcast said the plaintiffs did not have a viable claim, arguing the Cable Act gave it the absolute right to use pre-existing utility easements for putting up cable lines -- without the consent of property owners and without giving the property owners any compensation.
The Dicksons contested that the act provided significant limitations on cable providers when installing cable equipment.
According to the opinion, Comcast had relied on a document that was essentially its agreement with Mahoning granting it the authority to install and maintain cable services equipment.
While Judge Motto noted the document was not referenced in the plaintiffs' complaint and should not be considered in addressing Comcast's demurrer, the judge still explained why it did not resolve the current dispute.
According to the opinion, the resolution between Comcast and the township defines the so-called "area to be served" as areas in the township where there are at least "25 dwelling units per linear plant mile of aerial cable" and "50 dwelling units per underground mile of cable."
So far, the record in Dickson v. Comcast does not establish whether the plaintiffs' property is in an area where those conditions apply, Judge Motto said.
The plaintiffs also argued Comcast failed to meet a provision in the act requiring it to ensure the "safety, functioning and appearance" of the property and that the convenience of other people not be "adversely affected" by the installation of a cable system.
Comcast countered that the addition of cable wires to existing utility poles did not increase any burden on the couple's property; Comcast called any burden alleged by the couple de minimis.
The title-holders for the property at issue prior to the Dicksons signed an agreement with Pennsylvania Power Co. in 1937 granting it and its progeny the right to put up power lines above the property.
Last year, according to Judge Motto, the power company leased space on its utility poles to Comcast.
That's where the plaintiffs, whose property appears to be one of few nearby, got involved.
But Comcast also argued that its agreement with the power company allowed it to put up cable lines.
Citing the Pennsylvania Superior Court case Hash v. Sofinowski, the cable provider argued "courts have consistently permitted express easements to accommodate modern developments, so long as the use remains consistent with the purpose for which the right was originally granted."