Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
Hall v. Hall, et al.
Robert Hall appealed a judgment entered in favor of the defendants Estate of John Hall, Deborah Hall, and Leslie Hall Butzer ("Hall defendants") in this action to quiet title to a non-participating royalty interest (NPRI) in certain real property. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in vacating a default judgment against John Hall. However, because res judicata did not bar Robert Hall’s claims, the court erred in granting summary judgment to the Hall defendants. The matter was therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hall v. Hall, et al." on Justia Law
Environmental Law & Policy Center, et al. v. N.D. Public Svc. Commission, et al.
Environmental Law and Policy Center and Dakota Resource Council (“Appellants”) appealed from a district court judgment affirming the Public Service Commission’s order dismissing Appellants’ formal complaint on the basis of a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. This appeal arose from Meridian Energy Group, Inc.’s construction of a new oil refinery (“Davis Refinery”) in Billings County, North Dakota. In June 2018, Appellants filed a formal complaint with the Commission, alleging: Meridian was required to obtain a certificate of site compatibility from the Commission under N.D.C.C. ch. 49-22.1; and Meridian’s planned facility would have a capacity of refining 50,000 or more barrels per day (bpd). Appellants filed their complaint after the North Dakota Department of Health, now Department of Environmental Quality, granted Meridian a construction permit for a “55,000 bpd” oil refinery. The complaint sought a declaration that Meridian’s refinery was subject to N.D.C.C. ch. 49-22.1 and to the statutory siting process. The Commission determined the complaint stated a “prima facie case” under its pleading rule, and the Commission formally served the complaint on Meridian. Meridian asserted it was constructing a refinery with a capacity of 49,500 bpd, falling outside the Commission’s statutory jurisdictional threshold of 50,000 bpd. Meridian argued, as a result, the Commission did not have jurisdiction over this matter and the complaint must be dismissed. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Commission did not err when it dismissed Appellants’ complaint. The Court affirmed the district court’s judgment and the Commission’s order of dismissal. View "Environmental Law & Policy Center, et al. v. N.D. Public Svc. Commission, et al." on Justia Law
Wilkinson, et al. v. Board of University and School Lands of the State of N.D.
The Board of University and School Lands of the State of North Dakota, the State Engineer, and Statoil Oil & Gas LP appeal from a judgment determining William Wilkinson and the other plaintiffs owned mineral interests in certain North Dakota land. Although the judgment was not appealable because it did not dispose of all claims against all parties, the North Dakota Supreme Court exercised its supervisory jurisdiction to review the summary judgment. The Court concluded the district court did not err in concluding N.D.C.C. ch. 61-33.1 applied and the disputed mineral interests were above the ordinary high water mark of the historical Missouri riverbed channel, but the court erred in quieting title and failing to comply with the statutory process. Therefore, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Wilkinson, et al. v. Board of University and School Lands of the State of N.D." on Justia Law
Sorum, et al. v. North Dakota, et al.
The Plaintiffs, in their individual capacities and on behalf of similarly situated taxpayers, sought declaratory relief regarding chapter 61-33.1, N.D.C.C., relating to the ownership of mineral rights in lands subject to inundation by the Garrison Dam, was unconstitutional. The district court concluded that N.D.C.C. 61-33.1-04(1)(b) was on its face unconstitutional under the “gift clause,” and enjoined the State from issuing any payments under that statute. The court rejected Plaintiffs’ constitutional challenges to the rest of chapter 61-33.1. The Defendants appealed and the Plaintiffs cross-appealed the trial court’s orders, judgment, and amended judgment. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed that portion of the judgment concluding N.D.C.C. 61- 33.1-04(1)(b) violated the gift clause and the court’s injunction enjoining those payments. The Supreme Court also reversed the court’s award of attorney’s fees and costs and service award to the Plaintiffs because they were no longer prevailing parties. The Court affirmed the remainder of the orders and judgment, concluding the Plaintiffs did not establish that chapter 61-33.1 on its face violated the North Dakota Constitution. View "Sorum, et al. v. North Dakota, et al." on Justia Law
Hess Bakken Investments II, et al. v. AgriBank, et al.
Hess Bakken Investments II, LLC; Arkoma Drilling II, L.P.; and Comstock Oil & Gas, LP, (together the “Hess Group”) appealed an order and judgment dismissing their claims against AgriBank, FCB; Intervention Energy, LLC; and Riverbend Oil & Gas VI, L.L.C. (together, “Appellees”). At issue was the meaning of the term “actual drilling operations” as used in continuous drilling clauses in two oil and gas leases. The district court interpreted the term as requiring “placing the drill bit in the ground and penetrating the soil.” Each side has advanced competing readings of the term based on understandings of English grammar and industry usage. Although at odds, both interpretations are supported by rational arguments. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the term was ambiguous; "when ambiguity exists, the parties’ intent becomes a question of fact requiring a factual finding based on extrinsic evidence." Given this ambiguity, dismissal as a matter of law was improper. View "Hess Bakken Investments II, et al. v. AgriBank, et al." on Justia Law
Nat’l Parks Conservation Assn., et al. v. ND Dept. of Env. Quality, et al.
National Parks Conservation Association (“NPCA”) appealed a judgment affirming a final permit decision by the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, formerly the Department of Health Environmental Health Section, to issue Meridian Energy Group, Inc. an air quality permit to construct a refinery. In October 2016, Meridian submitted its initial application and supporting documentation to the Department for a permit to construct the Davis Refinery, as required under North Dakota’s air pollution control rules implementing the federal Clean Air Act. The Department received over 10,000 comments, with most of the substantive comments coming from NPCA, the National Park Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency. NPCA filed comments with the Department supported by its two experts’ opinions, asserting that Meridian’s oil refinery would be a “major source,” rather than a “minor source,” of air pollution and that the permit does not contain “practically enforceable” emissions limits under the federal Clean Air Act and North Dakota’s air pollution control rules implementing the Clean Air Act. After considering public comments and Meridian’s responses, the Department’s Air Quality Division recommended to the State Health Officer that the Department issue a final permit because the Davis Refinery’s emissions are expected to comply with the applicable North Dakota air pollution control rules. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Department did not act arbitrarily, capriciously, or unreasonably in issuing the permit. View "Nat'l Parks Conservation Assn., et al. v. ND Dept. of Env. Quality, et al." on Justia Law
Dale Exploration, et al. v. Hiepler, et al.
Mark Hiepler, as the trustee of the Orville G. Hiepler and Florence L. Hiepler Family Trust (“Trust”), appealed a judgment ordering him to transfer certain Trust property to Bill Seerup, and appealed an order denying his motion to dismiss. In April 2007, Orville and Florence Hiepler deeded 150 net mineral acres in Williams County to Seerup in exchange for $15,609. The mineral deed did not refer to the Trust or Orville and Florence Hiepler’s role as co-trustees. When the deed was executed, Orville individually owned only 7.3636 mineral acres. The remaining 142.6 mineral acres were owned by the Trust. Nine days after receiving the mineral deed from Orville and Florence Hiepler, Seerup conveyed 135 mineral acres to Hurley Oil Properties, Inc. In 2014, Dale Exploration, LLC, filed suit to quiet title to the 150 net mineral acres conveyed in the mineral deed from Orville and Florence Hiepler to Seerup. Seerup and Hurley Oil also brought a claim for breach of contract against Orville and Florence Hiepler, individually and as co-trustees, requesting specific performance or, alternatively, money damages if specific performance was not ordered. In 2017, the district court dismissed Dale Exploration’s claims on summary judgment, finding there was no evidence that Dale Exploration had an interest in the property. A bench trial was held on the remaining issues. The court found the Hieplers own the mineral interests in fee simple as trustees, not as individuals. The court also found the Hieplers breached the mineral deed to Seerup and the proper remedy was damages, not specific performance. The court awarded damages in the amount of $20,147.96. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed that judgment and remanded for further proceedings on whether money damages were adequate in light of specific performance. Orville died after the Supreme Court's judgment and mandate were issued. Orville and Mark responded to a proposed order drafted by Seerup and Hurley Oil, arguing the pleasings did not adequately assert specific performance. Specific performance of the mineral deed was ultimately granted. Mark Hiepler argues the district court erred in ordering him to convey the property to Seerup because the court did not have jurisdiction to enter a judgment against the Trust, the claims abated upon Orville Hiepler’s death, and he could not be substituted as a party for Orville Hiepler. Finding no error in the district court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Dale Exploration, et al. v. Hiepler, et al." on Justia Law
Arnold, et al. v. Trident Resources, et al.
Thomas Lockhart appealed an order finding him in contempt, imposing a sanction requiring the forfeiture of $300,000 to Douglas Arnold and Thomas Arnold, and divesting him of any management rights in Trident Resources, LLC. In 2013, Lockhart and the Arnolds entered into business capturing and compressing natural gas. The parties formed Trident Resources, with Lockhart owning a 70% interest and each of the Arnolds owning a 15% interest. Trident Resources owned two well processing units (WPUs), each purchased for $300,000. In 2015, the Arnolds initiated this action seeking reformation of the Trident Resources’ member control and operating agreement to clarify the parties’ respective ownership interests. Following a bench trial, the court ordered the entry of a judgment confirming Lockhart’s ownership of a 70% interest and each of the Arnold’s 15% ownership interest in Trident Resources. Before the entry of the judgment, Lockhart informed the Arnolds he had received an offer from Black Butte Resources to purchase one of the WPUs for $300,000. The Arnolds consented to the sale, provided the proceeds were deposited into their attorney’s trust account. When it appeared Lockhart had failed to deposit the funds into the trust account, the Arnolds filed a motion seeking to discover the location of the WPU and the sale proceeds. Before the hearing on the Arnolds’ motion, Lockhart deposited $100,000 into the account. The trial court ordered Lockhart to provide information regarding the WPU sold and the date the remaining $200,000 would be deposited. Lockhart eventually deposited $200,000 into the trust account and filed an affidavit stating Black Butte had purchased the WPU and the WPU had been transferred to Black Butte. Subsequent to Lockhart filing his affidavit, the Arnolds learned the WPU had not been sold to Black Butte for $300,000, but had instead been sold to another party for $500,000. The Arnolds filed a motion requesting the court to find Lockhart in contempt and for the imposition of appropriate sanctions. At the hearing on the motion, Lockhart conceded his affidavit was false and stipulated to the entry of a finding of contempt. On appeal, Lockhart argued the district court’s order improperly imposed a punitive sanction for his contempt. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the circumstances necessary for the imposition of a punitive sanction were not present prior to the imposition of the sanction in this case. The Court was left with an insufficient record to review the appropriateness of the imposition of a remedial sanction in the amount ordered by the trial court. reverse and remand this case to the district court for further findings in support of the sanction imposed for Lockhart’s contempt. The trial court judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further findings. View "Arnold, et al. v. Trident Resources, et al." on Justia Law
Northwest Grading, Inc. v. North Star Water, LLC, et al.
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
Reese v. Reese-Young
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