Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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North Star Water, LLC, provided water to oil drilling companies. In September 2014, North Star hired Northwest Grading, Inc., to construct an underground water pipeline from the Missouri River to North Star’s various pumping stations. Northwest Grading sent regular invoices to North Star during the course of construction. In August 2015, Northwest Grading informed North Star it owed a balance of $91,072.99. Northwest Grading notified North Star it would repossess the pipeline if it were not paid immediately. Northwest Grading did not receive payment. Employees of Northwest Grading made the pipeline inoperable by closing valves and filling the valve boxes with dirt and concrete. As a result, North Star was temporarily unable to sell water to at least one of its customers. Northwest Grading sued North Star for breach of contract, quantum meruit, and foreclosure of a construction lien. North Star counterclaimed for fictitious billing, trespass, and damage to property through unlawful repossession. The district court entered findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order for judgment in October 2018. The court found a business relationship existed between Northwest Grading and North Star, but not based on a written contract. The court concluded Northwest Grading was not authorized to repossess the pipeline by pouring concrete in the valve boxes, and its doing so was a breach of the peace. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err as to either party’s damages and did not abuse its discretion by denying Northwest Grading’s motion to strike testimony. The Court modified the judgment to correct the calculation of interest, and affirmed the judgment as modified. View "Northwest Grading, Inc. v. North Star Water, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Cheryl Reese appealed an amended judgment entered after the district court granted summary judgment deciding ownership of certain mineral interests and the right to receive the mineral royalties and bonus payments. In 2005, Dennis Reese and Tia Reese-Young, who both owned an interest in the minerals at the time, entered into an oil and gas lease for the property. After several conveyances, Dennis and Cheryl Reese owned a 12.5% interest in the minerals as joint tenants, and Reese-Young owned a 12.5% interest in the minerals as a tenant in common with Dennis and Cheryl. In July 2008, Dennis and Cheryl conveyed their 12.5% interest to Reese-Young by quit claim deed and reserved a life estate interest in the minerals. Dennis died in September 2008. In 2017, Cheryl sued Tia Reese-Young to quiet title and for declaratory judgment determining that Cheryl was the sole remaining life tenant in the property and that she was entitled to all of the proceeds to be derived from the minerals during her lifetime. Reese-Young argued the deed creating the life estate in Cheryl Reese did not explicitly reserve to Cheryl Reese an interest in the royalties, the deed was unambiguous, there were no disputed issues of material fact, and Tia Reese-Young is entitled to all of the income derived from the oil and gas production as a matter of law. Cheryl argued the unambiguous language of the deed established she reserved a life estate in the minerals and she was entitled to receive the royalty payments under the open mines doctrine because an oil and gas lease had been executed and oil and gas were being produced before the life estate was created. When the district court ruled in favor of Reese-Young, Cheryl appealed. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded as a matter of law, Cheryl was entitled to the proceeds from the oil and gas production, including the royalties and bonus payments, and she was not required to hold the proceeds in trust for Reese-Young. Judgment was reversed. View "Reese v. Reese-Young" on Justia Law

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Continental Resources, Inc. appealed a district court judgment dismissing its declaratory judgment action against the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality (“Department”). Continental’s action for declaratory judgment requested the district court find “that if an approved control device is installed and operating at an oil and gas production facility, the mere presence of an emission from a closed tank hatch or control device does not, in and of itself, establish a violation of N.D. Admin. Code 33-15-07-2(1).” The district court dismissed Continental’s declaratory judgment action after finding the Environmental Protection Agency was an indispensable party, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and the matter was not ripe for judicial review. While this appeal was pending, the Department moved to dismiss the appeal as moot. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment dismissing Continental’s request for declaratory judgment as not ripe for judicial review. View "Continental Resources v. N.D. Dept. of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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Rocky Mountain Steel Foundations, Inc. appealed an amended judgment ordering Mitchell’s Oil Field Services, Inc. and Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America (collectively “Mitchell’s”) to pay Rocky Mountain attorney’s fees. Rocky Mountain argued the district court erred by failing to award it all of the attorney’s fees it requested. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the portion of the judgment awarding Rocky Mountain attorney’s fees incurred before the prior appeal, but reversed the portion of the judgment denying the attorney’s fees Rocky Mountain requested for the prior appeal and on remand. The matter was remanded for the trial court to properly determine a reasonable amount of attorney’s fees. View "Rocky Mountain Steel Foundations. v. Brockett Co., et al." on Justia Law

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In 2011, Plaintiffs Rhonda Pennington, Steven Nelson, Donald Nelson, and Charlene Bjornson executed oil and gas leases for property in McKenzie County, North Dakota. Each lease term was three years with a lessee option to extend for an additional year. The leases were assigned to Continental Resources in September 2014, and it exercised an extension option. The leases included a provision that the leases would not terminate if drilling operations were delayed by an inability to obtain permits. In May 2012, Continental applied for a drilling permit on a 2,560-acre spacing unit that included the lands covered by the leases. The 2,560 acres included lands inhabited by the Dakota Skipper butterfly, which was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Continental could not begin drilling operations until receiving federal approval. In August 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion relating to the impact of Continental’s proposed drilling on the Dakota Skipper. On October 1, 2015, Continental proposed measures to minimize the impact of its operations on the Dakota Skipper. On October 21, 2015, Continental recorded an affidavit of regulation and delay, stating it had not yet obtained federal regulatory approval to drill, and the primary term of the leases was extended under the “regulation and delay” paragraph of the leases. The following day, Continental applied to terminate the 2,560-acre spacing unit and create a 1,920-acre spacing unit to remove the Dakota Skipper habitat. In November 2015, the Industrial Commission approved the 1,920-acre spacing unit. In January 2016, the commission pooled all of the oil and gas interests in the 1,920-acre spacing unit for the development and operation of the spacing unit. Following the January 2016 order, Continental began drilling operations. In August 2017, the Plaintiffs sued Continental, alleging the leases expired on October 25, 2015, and Continental’s delay in obtaining regulatory approval to drill did not extend the leases. Plaintiffs appealed a district court ruling the “regulation and delay” provision in their oil and gas leases with Continental Resources extended the term of the leases. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the district court concluded the delay in obtaining drilling permits for the 2,560-acre spacing unit was beyond Continental’s control and was not because of Continental’s fault or negligence. However, the court did not address whether Continental acted diligently and in good faith in pursuing a permit to drill the 2,560-acre spacing unit for more than three years. Viewing the evidence and inferences to be drawn from the evidence in a light favorable to the Plaintiffs, a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Continental acted diligently and in good faith. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings on that issue. View "Pennington, et al. v. Continental Resources, Inc." on Justia Law

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The State of North Dakota, ex rel. the North Dakota Board of University and School Lands, and the Office of the Commissioner of University and School Lands, a/k/a the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands (“the State”) appealed a district court’s interpretation of royalty provisions of natural gas leases with Newfield Exploration Company, Newfield Production Company, and Newfield RMI LLC (“Newfield”). The State argued the district court’s interpretation of the leases improperly allowed the reduction of the royalty payments to account for expenses incurred to make the natural gas marketable. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the gross proceeds from which the royalty payments under the leases were calculated could not be reduced by an amount that either directly or indirectly accounted for post-production costs incurred to make the gas marketable. Therefore, the Court reversed the district court’s judgment. View "Newfield Exploration Company, et al. v. North Dakota, et al." on Justia Law

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Steve Forster, Daniel Krebs, and Debra Krebs (collectively “Forster/Krebs”) appealed summary judgment that dismissed their claims against B&B Hot Oil Service, Inc. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court correctly construed the language in the parties’ lease agreement, as a whole, to operated as a waiver of claims against each other for damages to the leased building and the contents therein. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the provision in the parties’ lease waiving any claims against the other for any loss or damage to the leased premises or property therein was unenforceable to the extent it exempted B&B Hot Oil from responsibility for a willful or negligent violation of law. The Court thus affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "James Vault & Precast Co., et al. v. B&B Hot Oil Service, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Williams County appealed a the district court’s determination that its oil and gas leases with Twin City Technical LLC, Three Horns Energy, LLC, Prairie of the South LLC, and Irish Oil & Gas Inc. (“Lessees”), were void because the County failed to comply with the public advertising requirements for the lease of public land as provided in N.D.C.C. ch. 38-09. The Lessees sued the County in September 2015, about three and a half years after executing the leases. The North Dakota Supreme Court found record showed the Lessees received a June 2013 letter informing them of potential issues with the County’s mineral ownership. The Lessees contacted the County about the ownership issues by letter in April 2015. The County submitted an affidavit from its auditor stating bonus payments had already been spent and repayment would cause great hardship. Viewing the evidence and reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence in a light favorable to the County, the Supreme Court concluded there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether laches applied to bar the Lessees’ claim for repayment of the bonuses. The Supreme Court reversed that part of the judgment and remand for proceedings related to whether the Lessees’ delay in bringing their lawsuit was unreasonable, and whether the County was prejudiced by the delay. The Court affirmed as to all other issues. View "Twin City Technical LLC, et al. v. Williams County, et al." on Justia Law

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Daniel and Debra Bearce (“the Bearces”) appealed a judgment entered in favor of Yellowstone Energy Development LLC (“Yellowstone”) after the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment. In June 2006, representatives of a business entity that would eventually become Yellowstone went to the Bearces' home seeking to purchase 170 acres of land they owned. Yellowstone successfully secured an exclusive option to purchase the land. In 2008, Yellowstone exercised its option to purchase the land and the parties entered into a contract for deed. In 2009, Yellowstone and the Bearces modified the contract for deed to alter some of the payment terms. Both the original contract for deed and the 2009 modified contract for deed included a term providing for the payment of a portion of the purchase price with “shares” of a contemplated ethanol plant. Yellowstone subsequently abandoned its plan to build an ethanol plant on the Bearces’ land. In July 2010, Yellowstone sent a letter to the Bearces advising them their $100,000 in “value” would be issued despite Yellowstone’s abandonment of the plan to build an ethanol plant. The letter stated ownership units had not yet been issued and explained the Bearces would receive their ownership interest “at the time shares are issued to all its members.” Shortly after receiving that letter, the Bearces executed and delivered a deed for the property to Yellowstone. In December 2011, and again in October 2012, the Yellowstone Board of Directors approved a multiplier of three units per $1 invested for individuals who had provided initial cash investment in Yellowstone. The Bearces’ interest in Yellowstone was not given the either 3:1 multiplier. The Bearces' objected, and Yellowstone continued to refuse to apply the multiplier to the Bearces' interest. When unsuccessful at the trial court, the Bearces appealed, challenging the district court’s exclusion of parol evidence to support their allegation of fraud in the inducement. The Bearces also challenged the district court’s conclusion the Bearces were not owed a fiduciary duty. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s judgment dismissing the Bearces’ claim for fraud and their claim for breach of contract. The Court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the Bearces’ claim for breach of a fiduciary duty and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bearce, et al. v. Yellowstone Energy Development, LLC" on Justia Law

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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