Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Bankruptcy
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ConocoPhillips Co. and Alma Energy Corp. exchanged oil and gas interests under an exchange agreement in which each indemnified the other for any environmental claims related to the properties received. Alma later filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Thereafter, Noble Energy Inc. agreed to by the properties Alma had received from Conoco under the exchange agreement. After the bankruptcy proceeding concluded, an environmental contamination suit was filed against Conoco, and Noble refused to indemnify Conoco under the exchange agreement. Conoco filed suit against Noble alleging breach of the exchange agreement and seeking to recover the $63 million it paid to settle the suit. The trial court granted summary judgment for Noble. The court of appeals reversed and entered summary judgment for Conoco, concluding that the exchange agreement was an executory contract that was assumed by Alma and assigned to Noble in the bankruptcy proceeding. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that under the terms of the bankruptcy court order confirming the plan of reorganization and the agreement for sale of Alma’s assets, Noble was assigned an undisclosed contractual indemnity obligation of Alma. View "Noble Energy, Inc. v. Conocophillips Co." on Justia Law

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In 2000 the SEC charged First Choice and others with fraud. The district court appointed a receiver to take charge of the defendants’ assets for victims of the $31 million fraud. The receiver found that some assets had been used to acquire oil and gas leases in Texas and Oklahoma and attempted to sell them and use the proceeds to compensate the victims. Over the next 14 years, third parties sought to establish ownership interests in the leases. In this case, CRM sought to contest the receiver’s proposed sale of oil leases in Osage, Oklahoma, which it claims to have operated since 2002. The district court denied CRM’s motion to intervene and approved the sale. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that CRM knew as early as 2004 that the receiver was claiming the leases, but waited until the protracted and expensive receivership was finally moving toward an end and the receiver’s assets were dwindling to take action. View "Sec. & Exch. Comm'n v. First Choice Mgmt. Servs., Inc." on Justia Law

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Drillers filed a mineral lien on Debtor's well after Drillers performed work on the well and were never paid. The bankruptcy court dismissed Drillers' constructive trust and equitable lien claims and granted summary judgment to Debtors on Drillers' mineral contractor's and subcontractor's lien claims. The district court affirmed. The court affirmed the dismissal of Drillers' constructive trust and equitable lien claims. However, the court reversed and remanded the grant of summary judgment on Drillers' mineral subcontractors' lien claims because Drillers submitted sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment. The court held that it is possible under Texas law for an owner to also be a contractor, and for a laborer to secure liens against both the contracting and non-contracting owners. Viewed in the light most favorable to Drillers, the facts demonstrate that Drillers were subcontractors with regard to Debtors. View "Endeavor Energy Resources, L.P, et al. v. Heritage Consolidated, L.L.C., et al." on Justia Law

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Earl and Harold Van Sickle appealed, and Hallmark & Associates, Inc., Frank Celeste, William R. Austin, Phoenix Energy, Bobby Lankford, and Earskine Williams, and Missouri Breaks, LLC, cross-appealed an amended judgment that held Missouri Breaks liable to the Van Sickles for unpaid pre-bankruptcy confirmation royalties and awarding the Van Sickles interest and attorney's fees. Upon careful consideration of the trial court record, the Supreme Court concluded the court did not err in holding Missouri Breaks liable under state law for pre-bankruptcy confirmation royalties owed to the Van Sickles. Furthermore, the Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding the Van Sickles attorney's fees and did not err in awarding them simple interest under the statute. View "Van Sickle v. Hallmark & Assoc., Inc." on Justia Law

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The companies supplied oil and gas to SemCrude on credit. After SemCrude petitioned for bankruptcy, the companies filed a complaint contending that they retained property and statutory lien rights in those commodities and asserted that their claims could not be discharged without affording them the opportunity to litigate their claims in an adversary proceeding. They were not given that opportunity. The court instead established global procedures that entitled the companies to file one representative proceeding for each state in which they supplied oil and gas. All interested parties had the right to brief, and present oral argument on, their claims. Regardless whether a company participated, however, the rulings from the representative action would be binding on it. After such proceedings, the court rejected the companies’ claims that that they retained property and statutory lien rights. Following confirmation of Semcrude’s reorganization plan, the companies appealed to the district court, which rejected their claims as equitably moot. The Third Circuit reversed. The record did not support SemCrude’s claims that granting the companies relief would collapse its plan of reorganization or undermine the justifiable reliance of third parties to their significant harm. View "In re: SemCrude LP" on Justia Law

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Seven affiliated debtors are entities that conducted deep and strip coal mining and operated coal prep plants and loading facilities in three states. The bankruptcy court authorized joint procedural administration, but not substantive consolidation. The administrative expense claims at issue arise from environmental damage. The land and the coal were subject to leases that terminated before commencement of bankruptcy proceedings. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) issued mining permits and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits to the debtors and affiliated entities for the operations. The bankruptcy court denied WVDEP’s application for administrative expenses against two debtors. The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel held that the court failed to properly analyze the debtors’ potential liability for reclamation obligations associated with permits owned by their affiliate. WVDEP’s administrative expense claims were properly denied to the extent they were based on derivative liability for the debts of the affiliate, either based on veil piercing or substantive consolidation. The court abused its discretion in denying the claims that were based on direct liability for reclamation obligations associated with the permits owned by the affiliate and in denying claims that were independent of the threshold question of joint and several liability for reclamation obligations associated with the permits owned by an affiliate. View "In re: Appalachian Fuels, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Eric Rajala, Trustee of the bankruptcy estate of Generation Resources Holding Company, LLC (GRHC), appealed a district court order which granted motions by Defendants-Appellees FreeStream Capital, LLC (FreeStream) and Lookout Windpower Holding Co., LLC (LWHC) to distribute approximately $9 million held in escrow. The amount represented part of the purchase price of a wind power project allegedly developed by GRHC. The Trustee claimed that GRHC had been left with $5 million in debt while the individual Defendants-Appellees and their affiliated entities received some $13 million in proceeds from the sale of several wind power projects, unburdened by the debt. The issue on appeal before the Tenth Circuit was what constituted property of the bankruptcy estate and whether allegedly fraudulently transferred property was subject to the Bankruptcy Code's automatic stay before a trustee recovers the property through an avoidance action. The district court held that allegedly fraudulently transferred property was not part of the bankruptcy estate until recovered and therefore was beyond the reach of the automatic stay. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed: "[i]n the end, we need not pass upon the constitutionality of such a broad reading. . . . This interpretation gives Congress's chosen language its ordinary meaning, and abides by the rule against surplusage. Further, our reading does not undermine the Bankruptcy Code's goal of equitable distribution, as there exist[s] alternative means of protecting estate assets." View "Rajala v. Garnder" on Justia Law

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In 2000 the SEC charged violation of securities law. The court appointed a receiver to distribute assets among victims of the $31 million fraud. The receiver found that assets had been used to acquire oil and gas leases. SonCo claimed an interest in the leases. In 2010, the district court issued an “agreed order,” requiring SonCo to pay $600,000 for quitclaim assignment of the leases and release of claims in Canadian litigation. Alco operated the wells and had posted a $250,000 cash bond with the Texas Railroad Commission. Alco could get its $250,000 back if replaced by new operator that posted an equivalent bond. The $250,000 had come, in part, from defrauded investors. Alco was incurring environmental liabilities, with little prospect of offsetting revenues. SonCo was to replace Alco, but failed to so, after multiple extensions. The district judge held SonCo in civil contempt, ordered it to return the leases, and allowed the receiver to keep the $600,000. The Seventh Circuit upheld the finding of civil contempt. Following remand, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the sanction; considering additional environmental compliance costs and receivership fees, a plausible estimate of the harm would be $2 million. ”SonCo will be courting additional sanctions, of increasing severity, if it does not desist forthwith from its obstructionist tactics.” View "Sec. & Exch. Comm'n v. First Choice Mgmt Servs., Inc." on Justia Law

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Orton filed a Chapter 7 petition. On Schedule A (realty), he listed his one-eighth interest in vacant land that is subject to an oil and gas lease, stating fair market value as $34,000 and claiming an exemption for $4,250 (1/8). On Schedule B (personal property), Orton listed his one-fourth interest in royalty interest in the oil and gas lease, assigning a fair market value of $1; no well has been drilled. On Schedule C (claimed exemptions), Orton claimed wildcard exemptions, 11 U.S.C. 522(d)(5), for $4,250 and $1. No party objected. The Trustee moved to close the case and to except Orton’s royalty interest from abandonment, preserving ability to recover any future royalties for the estate. Orton objected, claiming that he had successfully, permanently removed the assets from the estate, securing for himself future appreciation, free from creditors’ claims. The Bankruptcy Court held that the Trustee was entitled to pursue any future increase in value above the amount stated in Schedule C. The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. The Trustee, not the Debtor, is entitled to post-petition appreciation in value of estate assets that surpasses the amount exempted. Orton had exempted only an interest, not the asset itself, and was entitled to only the amount listed in Schedule C, not to future appreciation. View "In Re:Orton" on Justia Law

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The SEC filed a complaint. The court appointed a receiver to handle defendants' assets for distribution among victims of the $31 million fraud. Assets included oil and gas leases. SonCo filed a claim. The parties came to terms; the court entered an agreed order that required SonCo to pay $580,000 for assignment of the leases. The wells were unproductive, because of freeze orders entered to prevent dissipation of assets; the lease operator, ALCO, had posted a $250,000 bond with the Texas Railroad Commission. The bond was, in part, from defrauded investors. SonCo was ordered to replace ALCO as operator and to obtain a bond. More than a year later, SonCo had not posted the bond or obtained Commission authorization to operate the wells, but had paid for the assignment. The judge held SonCo in contempt and ordered it to return the leases, allowing the receiver to keep $600,000 that SonCo had paid. SonCo returned the leases. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that SonCo willfully violated the order, but vacated the sanction. The judge on remand may: reimpose the sanction, upon demonstrating that it is a compensatory remedy for civil contempt; impose a different, or no sanction; or proceed under rules governing criminal contempt. View "SonCo Holdings, LLC v. Bradley" on Justia Law