Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Criminal Law
Brooks v. Commonwealth Edison Co.
Nine Illinois energy consumers sued their electricity provider, ComEd, and its parent, Exelon, on behalf of themselves and those similarly situated for damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) alleging injury from increased electricity rates. These rates increased, they allege, because ComEd bribed former Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan to shepherd three bills through the state’s legislature: the Energy Infrastructure and Modernization Act of 2011 (EIMA); 2013 amendments to that legislation; and the Future Energy Jobs Act of 2016. Although Illinois law still required public utilities to file rates with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), EIMA implemented statutorily prescribed, performance-based rate increases that limited ICC discretion in reviewing rates and authorized at least $2.6 billion in ComEd spending on smart meters and smart grid infrastructure, costs that were required to be passed on to customers. In 2016, FEJA provided $2.35 billion in funding for nuclear power plants operated, paid for through a new fee for utility customers, and allowed ComEd to charge ratepayers for all energy efficiency programs and for some expenses relating to employee incentive compensation, pensions, and other post-employment benefits.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Paying a state’s required filed utility rate is not a cognizable injury for a RICO damages claim. View "Brooks v. Commonwealth Edison Co." on Justia Law
North Dakota v. Bearrunner
Julian Bearrunner appealed after being convicted of class A misdemeanor criminal trespass and class A misdemeanor engaging in a riot, charges stemming from protests near the Dakota Access Pipeline. On appeal, Bearrunner argued the district court misinterpreted the criminal trespass statute by finding that the pasture was "so enclosed as manifestly to exclude intruders" as required to convict him of the trespassing charge. Bearrunner also argued the district court erred in finding that his conduct was "tumultuous and violent" as required to convict him of the engaging in a riot charge. Upon reviewing the record, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded Bearrunner's conviction of class A criminal trespass under N.D.C.C. 12.1-22-03(2)(b) was supported by substantial evidence. However, there was not substantial evidence that Bearrunner engaged in violent conduct sufficient to support a conviction for the class A misdemeanor of engaging in a riot. Whether a fence is so enclosed as manifestly to exclude intruders is a finding of fact. Appellant's conduct did not rise to the level of "tumultuous and violent" as required under N.D.C.C. 12.1-25-01. View "North Dakota v. Bearrunner" on Justia Law
United States v. Kaluza
A blowout of oil, natural gas, and mud occurred in 2010 during deepwater drilling operations at the Macondo well, located on the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”) in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. At the time of the blowout, the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig chartered by BP, plc. from Transocean Ltd., was attached to the Macondo well. Eleven men died from the resulting explosions and fires on the Deepwater Horizon. Defendants Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine were “well site leaders,” the highest ranking BP employees working on the rig. Defendants were indicted by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Louisiana on 23 counts, including 11 counts of seaman’s manslaughter. The district court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to charge an offense because neither defendant fell within the meaning of the criminal statute. The government appealed this determination. Because the Fifth Circuit agreed that neither defendant fell within the meaning of the phrase “[e]very . . . other person employed on any . . . vessel,” the Court affirmed. View "United States v. Kaluza" on Justia Law
Sec. & Exch. Comm’n v. First Choice Mgmt. Servs., Inc.
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
United States v. Smith
The Smith brothers and others operated Target Oil, which conducted speculative resource drilling in Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. Wells they represented as sure-fire investments often produced virtually no oil and many wells were never completed. From 2003 to 2008, Target Oil received about $15,800,000 in investor funds but, according to the postal inspector, distributed only $460,000 in royalties. The brothers were arrested and accused of conspiring with others to defraud investors of millions of dollars. Michael was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1349, and of 11 substantive counts of mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341, and sentenced to 120 months in prison and ordered to pay $5,506,917 in restitution. Christopher was convicted by the same jury on seven counts of mail fraud and was sentenced to 60 months in prison and ordered to pay $1,652,075 in restitution. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that: the evidence was insufficient to support their convictions; the government offered evidence that constructively amended or varied the indictment; their sentences are procedurally and substantively unreasonable; one of the forfeiture judgments was excessive; the district court erred in excluding a defense expert witness; and items of evidence relating to the alleged fraud were erroneously admitted. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law
United States v. DeChristopher
Defendant-Appellant Tim DeChristopher entered a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oil and gas lease auction in Salt Lake City, Utah, by representing he was a bidder. His purpose was to disrupt the auction and call attention to the potential environmental harms of drilling on the leases. He proceeded to drive up the auction prices and ultimately won almost $1.8 million in bids, for which he was unable to pay. A jury convicted Defendant of interfering with the provisions of Chapter 3A of the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, and making a false statement or representation. He appealed, raising eight separate issues related to his conviction. Upon review of each, the Tenth Circuit determined they had no merit and affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence. View "United States v. DeChristopher" on Justia Law
United States v. Brooks
Defendants appealed their conviction of and sentencing for false reporting of natural gas trades in violation of the Commodities Exchange Act (CEA), 49 U.S.C. 1491, and the federal wire fraud statute. The government alleged that defendants violated the CEA and the wire fraud statute by sending false information about natural gas prices to trade magazines that reported natural gas prices in indexes, in an effort to affect and manipulate those indexes, which, in turn, would affect the market for natural gas futures and benefit the company's financial positions. The court held that defendants failed to show clear error in the district court's factual findings, and under those facts, the court found that denial of the motion to dismiss the indictment was proper; the CEA covered no constitutionally protected speech; beyond the issue of whether the means rea applied to the final element of the false reporting offense - which the court was confident was harmless if it was erroneous - the court found no errors in the jury instructions and held that the cumulative error doctrine did not require reversal; defendants' argument that the district court erred by denying their motion for acquittal because they were convicted for answering fundamentally ambiguous questions was rejected; in regards to defendants' claims of evidentiary error, the district court did not err; and because the court found defendants' arguments unavailing, the court affirmed the sentences. View "United States v. Brooks" on Justia Law