Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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Appellant, Summer Night Oil Company, and Appellees, individuals and oil companies, resolved a dispute over the operation of two oil wells through a settlement agreement. Appellant filed a motion to compel performance of the agreement after the parties failed to perform timely their obligations under the agreement. Specifically, Appellant asked the district court to compel Appellees to deliver all title clearance documents under the agreement. Appellees responded with a request to compel Appellant to pay a fine due to the EPA and a payment owed to Appellees under the agreement. Both parties sought attorney fees. The district court enforced what it determined to be the plain meaning of the agreement's terms, and (1) ordered Appellant to pay the fine owed to the EPA, (2) ordered Appellant to pay Appellee the amount owed it under the agreement, (3) ordered Appellees to deliver all title clearance documents to an escrow agent, and (4) declined to award attorney fees to either party. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court properly denied Appellant's motion to compel performance of the agreement according to Appellant's terms, and (2) the district court correctly denied Appellant's motion to alter or amend its judgment. View "Summer Night Oil Co. v. Munoz " on Justia Law

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Defendant Lang and Sons owned and operated a cattle ranch. Plaintiff Burlington Resources Oil and Gas Company leased the rights to oil and gas beneath Lang's surface estate. Burlington reinstated use of an abandoned well on Lang's property for the disposal of wastewater, which Lang objected to. Burlington filed a complaint with the district court to compel access to Lang's property, and Lang counterclaimed that it had a right to compensation for the use of the pore space beneath the abandoned well. The district court determined that Burlington had no obligation to compensate Lang separately for injecting wastewater into the pore space and that Lang had failed to prove entitlement to damages under the Surface Owner Damage and Disruption Compensation Act (SODDCA). On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court correctly concluded that Lang failed to establish that it was due separate compensation under SODDCA and the facts of this case, and (2) the district court correctly refused to defer to witnesses employed by the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation in interpreting the SODDCA. View "Burlington Res. Oil Gas & Co., L.P. v. Lang & Sons, Inc." on Justia Law

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The City of Great Falls, Benefis Health Care, and Electric City Power (ECP) filed a complaint with the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) challenging the lawfulness of NorthWestern Energy's (NWE) refusal to allow ECP to provide electricity supply to meters owned by the City and Benefis. The PSC issued a final order concluding that ECP could not provide electricity supply service to the disputed meters, basing its decision upon its interpretation that "customer," as contained in Mont. Code Ann. 69-8-201(2), meant an individual meter or point of delivery, rather than an entity or person. The City, Benefis, and ECP appealed the final order. The district court reversed, finding error in the PSC's statutory interpretation, and remanded the matter to the PSC to allow all of the City's and Benefis' meters to receive electricity supply service from ECP. NWE and the PSC appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding the district court correctly determined that under the statute, the term "customer" means an entity or person rather than an individual meter and, accordingly, correctly permitted the City and Benefis to receive electricity from ECP at the disputed meters.

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In 2010, MATL, a Calgary-based company currently building a power transmission line, filed a complaint for condemnation against Larry Salois, the guardian and conservator of Shirley Salois. Salois moved for summary judgment. The district court then issued an order concluding that MATL did not possess the power of eminent domain and had no authority to take the private property of a nonconsenting landowner. MATL appealed. The Supreme Court reversed. At issue was HB 198, which was made into law on May 9, 2011. The bill expressly gives a person issued a certificate under the Major Facility Siting Act the power of eminent domain. The legislature explicitly provided for HB 198 to apply retroactively to certificates issued after September 30, 2008. In October 2008, MATL received a Major Facility Siting Act certificate. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that (1) HB 198 applies retroactively to MATL's certificate issued pursuant to the Major Facility Citing Act, and (2) the explicit language of HB 198 is in conflict with the district court's order.

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Appellant, a Montana limited partnership which owned an electrical generating plant in Rosebud County, appealed the district court's order denying its motion to vacate the arbitration award ("Final Award") in its dispute with appellee, a Delaware corporation and a regulated public utility conducting business in Montana. At issue was whether the district court abused its discretion when if failed to vacate, modify, or correct the arbitration award. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant's motion where Montana's Uniform Arbitration Act, 27-5-311 MCA, did not permit a court to vacate an arbitration award in part; where Montana law was clear that a non-breaching party was still required to prove its damages; where the district court correctly noted in its order confirming the Final Award that the legal precedent on which appellant relied for its request to modify or correct the Final Award applied only to motions to vacate an award; and where the district court correctly determined that it lacked the authority to vacate the Final Award.

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The Montana Department of Revenue ("Department") appealed a judgment reversing the State Tax Appeal Board's ("STAB") conclusion that the Department had applied a "commonly accepted" method to assess the value of PacificCorp's Montana properties. At issue was whether substantial evidence demonstrated common acceptance of the Department's direct capitalization method that derived earnings-to-price ratios from an industry-wide analysis. Also at issue was whether substantial evidence supported STAB's conclusion that additional obsolescence did not exist to warrant consideration of further adjustments to PacifiCorp's taxable value. The court held that substantial evidence supported the Department's use of earnings-to-price ratios in its direct capitalization approach; that additional depreciation deductions were not warranted; and that the Department did not overvalue PacifiCorp's property. The court also held that MCA 15-8-111(2)(b) did not require the Department to conduct a separate, additional obsolescence study when no evidence suggested that obsolescence existed that has not been accounted for in the taxpayer's Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") Form 1 filing. The court further held that STAB correctly determined that the actual $9.4 billion sales price of PacifiCorp verified that the Department's $7.1 billion assessment had not overvalued PacifiCorp's properties.