Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
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Arising under the 2006 version of La. R.S. 30:29 (referred to as Act 312), this oilfield remediation case involved the Vermilion Parish School Board (“VPSB”), individually and on behalf of the State of Louisiana, as petitioner, and Union Oil Company of California, Union Exploration Partners (collectively, “UNOCAL”), Chevron U.S.A., Inc., Chevron Midcontinent LP, and Carrollton Resources, LLC as defendants. Although the exact date of VPSB’s knowledge of contamination to the land was disputed, it was clear that VPSB became aware of such sometime in 2003 or 2004. In September 2004, VPSB filed a petition, urging causes of action for negligence, strict liability, unjust enrichment, trespass, breach of contract, and violations of Louisiana environmental laws. VPSB sought damages to cover the cost of evaluating and remediating the alleged damage and contamination to the property. It also sought damages for diminution of the property value, mental anguish, inconvenience, punitive damages, and stigma damages. UNOCAL sought reversal of the lower courts’ finding that VPSB’s strict liability claim was not prescribed. UNOCAL also contested the court of appeal’s ruling that the jury verdict was inconsistent and its remand for a new trial. Finding UNOCAL failed to prove that VPSB’s strict liability cause of action was factually prescribed, the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeal’s ruling on prescription, but on alternative grounds. Finding the jury was improperly allowed to decide issues reserved solely for the trial court, and cognizant the extraneous instructions and verdict interrogatories permeated the jury’s consideration of the verdict as a whole, the Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s judgment and affirmed the court of appeal’s remand for new trial. View "Louisiana v. Louisiana Land & Exploration Co. et al." on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court’s review in this case centered on whether an award of attorney fees and other litigation costs to defendant landowners in an expropriation proceeding could be upheld under current law. The underlying matter arose from the construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. As part of the project, Bayou Bridge Pipeline, LLC (“BBP”), sought to acquire servitudes on the property of various landowners. The specific piece of property at the center of this litigation is approximately 38 acres of land (“the property”). Prior to reaching servitude agreements with all individuals with an ownership interest in this particular parcel of land, BBP began pipeline construction. Peter Aaslestad, one of the property owners, filed suit against BBP in order to enjoin BBP from further construction. BBP later stipulated that it would remain off the property as of September 10, 2018. However, the pipeline construction was more than 90% complete at that time. Meanwhile, in late July 2018, after it had begun construction on the property, BBP filed expropriation litigation against hundreds of property owners with whom servitude agreements could not be reached, including Mr. Aaslestad, Katherine Aaslestad, and Theda Larson Wright (collectively referred to as “defendants”). In response, defendants filed a reconventional demand against BBP, alleging BPP trespassed on their property and violated due process by proceeding with construction of the pipeline prior to a judgment of expropriation. The matter proceeded to a trial wherein the trial court granted BBP’s petition for expropriation, finding the expropriation served a public and necessary purpose. The trial court also granted defendants’ reconventional demand, finding that BBP trespassed on defendants’ property prior to obtaining permission or legal authority. The trial court ultimately awarded each defendant $75.00 for the expropriation and another $75.00 in trespass damages. The court of appeal reversed in part: upholding the constitutionality of the expropriation process, but finding that BBP violated defendants’ due process rights and awarded $10,000.00 to each defendant for trespass, and granted attorney fees. The Supreme Court determined the award of fees was constitutional, and upheld the Court of Appeal. View "Bayou Bridge Pipeline, LLC v. 38.00 Acres, More or Less, Located in St. Martin Parish et al." on Justia Law

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This dispute involved ad valorem taxes for the tax years 2013 through 2016. In October 2012, D90 Energy, LLC, purchased two gas wells and one saltwater disposal well. The wells were subject to ad valorem property taxation in Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana. Relying on a Commission regulation applicable to oil and gas wells, D90 argued that a purchase price in a valid sale is fair market value; therefore, the wells should be valued at $100,000.00 for each of these tax years. For each tax year, the Assessor rejected D90’s documentation of the sale, explaining, in part, that his office never uses the sales price as fair market value for oil and gas wells. Rather, the Assessor used valuation tables provided by the Commission, which take into account age, depth, type, and production of the wells. D90 appealed each assessment to the Commission, presenting documentary evidence and live testimony to establish the $100,000.00 purchase price for the wells and the arms-length nature of the sale. It presented additional evidence to establish that the condition and value of the wells were virtually identical for each tax year. The district court affirmed the Commission’s valuations for all four tax years. Reviewing only what was presented to the Assessor, the court of appeal reversed the district court and reinstated the Assessor’s valuation. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted D90’s writ application to determine the correctness of the assessments, the proper scope and standard of review, and the legal effect of D90’s failure to pay taxes under protest. After review, the Court determined the district court was correct in affirming the Commission, thus reversing the appellate court's judgment. View "D90 Energy, LLC v. Jefferson Davis Parish Board of Review" on Justia Law

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A landowner brought suit against several mineral lessees for breach of the obligations of the mineral lease. The mortgagee of one of the lessees was also named as a defendant. The lower courts held all lessees and the mortgagee jointly liable for damages resulting from the failure to furnish a recordable act evidencing the expiration of the lease (i.e., failure to release the lease). The Louisiana Supreme Court granted consolidated writ applications to determine: (1) whether the mortgagee was properly held jointly liable as an “owner” of the lease under La. Mineral Code art. 207 and a “lessee” under La. Mineral Code art. 140; (2) whether the imposition of joint liability was correct with regard to the owner of a portion of the shallow rights; (3) whether La. Mineral Code art. 140’s calculation of damages contemplated the inclusion of unpaid royalties (the amount due) in addition to double the amount of unpaid royalties (as a penalty) or whether the maximum damage award allowed is twice the amount of unpaid royalties; and (4) whether $125,000 in attorney fees for work done on appeal was excessive. The Court found: (1) the mortgagee was not an “owner” for purposes of La. Mineral Code art. 207 and was, therefore, not liable for failure to release the lease. For the same reasons, the Court found the mortgagee was not a “lessee” for purposes of La. Mineral Code art. 140 and, was, therefore, not liable for failure to pay royalties that were due. (2) The Court found Tauren is jointly liable for the damages because the failure to release the lease was an indivisible obligation under the particular facts of this case. (3) The Court held La. Mineral Code art. 140 authorized as damages a maximum of double the amount of unpaid royalties. (4) Last, the Court amended the award of attorney fees. View "Gloria's Ranch, LLC. v. Tauren Exploration, Inc." on Justia Law

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Nelson Industrial Steam Company (“NISCO”) was in the business of generating electric power in Lake Charles. In order to comply with state and federal environmental regulations, NISCO introduces limestone into its power generation process; the limestone acts as a “scrubbing agent.” The limestone chemically reacts with sulfur to make ash, which NISCO then sells to LA Ash, for a profit of roughly $6.8 million annually. LA Ash sells the ash to its customers for varying commercial purposes, including roads, construction projects, environmental remediation, etc. NISCO appealed when taxes were collected on its purchase of limestone over four tax periods. NISCO claimed its purchase of limestone was subject to the “further processing exclusion” of La. R.S. 47:301(10)(c)(i)(aa), which narrowed the scope of taxable sales. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted NISCO’s writ application to determine the taxability of the limestone. The trial court ruled in the Tax Collectors' favor. After its review, the Supreme Court found that NISCO’s by-product of ash was the appropriate end product to analyze for purposes of determining the “further processing exclusion’s” applicability to the purchase of limestone. Moreover, under a proper “purpose” test, the third prong of the three-part inquiry enunciated in "International Paper v. Bridges," (972 So.2d 1121(2008)) was satisfied, "as evidenced by NISCO’s choice of manufacturing process and technology, its contractual language utilized in its purchasing of the limestone, and its subsequent marketing and sale of the ash." Therefore the Court reversed the trial court and ruled in favor of NISCO. View "Bridges v. Nelson Industrial Steam Co." on Justia Law

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This case was brought by the plaintiffs, mineral royalty owners, against defendants, mineral lessees and working interest owners, for unrecovered hydrocarbons after two wells ceased production. Following a lengthy bench trial, the district court concluded plaintiffs had not proven the operators caused any loss of hydrocarbons and dismissed their claims with prejudice. The single issue before the Louisiana Supreme Court was whether the district court committed manifest error in ruling in favor of defendants, finding their experts more credible than plaintiffs' expert. The Court of Appeal reversed. The Supreme Court found that the appellate court was incorrect in its analysis of the manifest error review standard, and after reviewing the record, the Supreme Court concluded there was a reasonable basis for the district court's conclusion on causation. Therefore, it's conclusion was not clearly erroneous. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the judgment of dismissal. View "Hayes Fund for the First Untied Methodist Church of Welsh, LLC v. Kerr-McGee Rocky Mountain, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a petition filed by vendors of mineral rights, plaintiff John C. McCarthy, individually and as trustee of the Kathleen Balden Trust, and plaintiff Marjorie Moss. Plaintiffs named as defendant Evolution Petroleum Corporation, which was formerly known as Natural Gas Systems, Inc. Plaintiffs also named as a defendant NGS Sub. Corp. (“NGS”). Plaintiffs sought damages and rescission of their sale of royalty interests in mineral leases within the Delhi Field Unit, located in Richland Parish. Plaintiffs alleged fraud and error as grounds for rescission. The defendants filed a peremptory exception of no cause of action, which the district court granted, and the case was dismissed. In the first of two appeals in this case, the appellate court affirmed the exception of no cause of action, but reversed the dismissal with instructions to the district court on remand to allow the plaintiffs the opportunity to amend their petition to state a cause of action. The cause of action that plaintiffs came up with was, according to the appellate court, "novel and untested," and the Supreme Court granted review to determine whether that cause of action comported with Louisiana mineral law. The purported cause of action imposed a duty on a mineral lessee purchasing the lessor’s mineral royalty rights to disclose to the lessor that the lessee has already negotiated the resale of the mineral rights to a third party for a significantly higher price. Finding the lessee’s duties upon which the appellate court premised its cause of action to be expressly excluded in the Mineral Code, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s decision, and reinstated the district court’s decision, which ruled plaintiffs failed to state a cause of action and dismissed this case with prejudice. View "McCarthy v. Evolution Petroleum Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the district court or the Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC) has subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate a claim by a putative class of utility ratepayers in the City of Opelousas against Cleco Corporation and Cleco Power, LLC (Cleco). The ratepayers sought reimbursement for alleged overcharges for electricity for a period of nearly twenty years, based on a franchise agreement Cleco signed with the City of Opelousas in 1991. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court and sustained Cleco's exception of lack of subject matter jurisdiction because this is primarily a rate case that must be decided, in the first instance, by the LPSC. Furthermore, the Court found that LA. CONST. art. IV, section 21 (C) was inapplicable, which excludes from the LPSC's exclusive authority a public utility owned, operated, or regulated by a political subdivision, as this case did not involve a municipally-owned public utility company. Accordingly, the rulings of the lower courts were vacated and the ratepayers' claims were dismissed. View "Opelousas Trust Authority v. Cleco Corporation" on Justia Law

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"This matter has a complicated and convoluted procedural history, which has ultimately resulted in a 'cobweb of litigation.'" This case has its genesis in 1994 when ANR Pipeline Company (ANR) first challenged the ad valorem taxes assessed against its public service pipelines by filing a protest with the Louisiana Tax Commission (LTC). Thereafter, through 2003, ANR filed annual protests with the LTC. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company (TGP) and Southern Natural Gas Company (SNG) also filed protests with the LTC regarding the ad valorem taxes assessed against their public service pipelines from 2000 to 2003.The issues before the Supreme Court concerned whether the reassessment of public service properties issued on remand of this matter in accordance with a court order constituted a local assessment by the local assessors or a central assessment by the Louisiana Tax Commission (LTC) and whether, in this taxpayers’ action, the assessors have a right to challenge a decision of the LTC relative to those reassessment valuations. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the reassessments were central assessments governed by the provisions of La. Const. art. VII, sec. 18 and La. R.S. 47:1851, et seq. Furthermore, the Court found that once joined by the taxpayers as defendants in the taxpayers’ Section 1856 action for judicial review, the assessors are entitled to challenge the LTC’s final determination of the reassessment valuations. Accordingly, the Court found the lower courts erred in sustaining the taxpayers’ exceptions of no right of action and dismissing the assessors’ cross-appeals. View "ANR Pipeline Co v. Louisiana Tax Comm'n" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether the doctrine of "contra non valentem" applied to suspend a ten year liberative prescriptive period applicable to an action by a mineral interest owner against the operator of a unit well who failed to pay the owner share of the proceeds for mineral production. Plaintiff James Wells filed suit after being contacted by a landman concerning leasing of his mineral interest in lands inherited from his parents. In the 1950s, Plaintiff's parents sold the land but reserved the mineral interests. Plaintiff's mother executed a mineral lease which was released a few years later because the well drilled resulted in a dry hole. However, the landowners executed their own mineral lease, which achieved production in 1965, and continued producing until 2007. Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants Donald Zadeck and Zadeck Energy Group and several other companies who were allegedly conducting oil and gas exploration and production activities from his unleased unitized acreage without tendering to him (or his parents) their rightful share of proceeds from the production. In response, Zadeck filed a Peremptory Exception of Prescription, urging that Plaintiff's claim to recover payments was a quasi contract that prescribed ten years from Zadeck's successor's cessation of involvement with the "dry hole." Plaintiff argued that the doctrine of "contra non valentem" applied to suspend the running of prescription since he had no knowledge of the existence of the mineral interests or production until December 2008. Plaintiff contended that his ignorance was not attributable to any fault of his own, and he clearly exercised due diligence in discovering the relevant facts once he learned from the landman that he owned the mineral interests. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the doctrine of contra non valentem applied to suspend the running of prescription because the mineral interest owners did not know nor reasonably should they have known of the mineral production until December 2008. View "Wells v. Zadeck Energy Group" on Justia Law