Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Oklahoma Supreme Court
Hobson v. Cimarex Energy Co,
Plaintiff/Appellant was the vested remainderman of his father's life estate in the surface rights of land in Canadian County, Oklahoma (the "Property"). Defendant Cimarex Energy Company was the lessee of the Property's mineral interests. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that he was entitled to compensation for the surface damages caused by the drilling of wells and entitled to be notified of negotiations to determine surface damages because he was a "surface owner" within the meaning of the Surface Damages Act (SDA), 52 O.S. sections 318.2 et seq. Defendant moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim arguing Plaintiff was not an owner within the meaning of the SDA, and even if he were an owner, his proper remedy was to seek compensation from the life tenant. The trial court sustained the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss finding the Remainderman was not a "surface owner" under the SDA. Plaintiff appealed. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court's ruling interpreting "surface owner" under the SDA to include vested remainder interests. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found the SDA's definition of surface owner was ambiguous, and was persuaded by the common meaning, expressed legislative intent, and interests of justice that the SDA's use of surface owner applies only to those holding a current possessory interest. Under the SDA, a mineral lessee must negotiate surface damages with those who hold a current possessory interest in the property. A vested remainderman did not hold a current possessory interest until the life estate has come to its natural end. The Court of Civil Appeals’ decision was vacated and the trial court affirmed. View "Hobson v. Cimarex Energy Co," on Justia Law
Hall v. Galmor
This appeal centered on the trial court's judgment after a bench trial that denied the Appellant's petition to cancel Appellee's oil and gas leases, to quiet title in favor of the Appellant's "top leases," and to hold Appellee liable for slander of title. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the appeal to address several issues of first impression. Through this opinion, the Court declined to adopt the definition of "capability" propounded by the Appellant and affirmed the district court's finding that Appellee's wells were capable of production in paying quantities. The Court affirmed the district court's judgment insofar as it quieted title in Appellee's favor as to leasehold interests located inside those wells' spacing units. The Court reversed the district court's judgment insofar as it quieted title in Appellee's favor as to leasehold interests in lands falling outside those wells' spacing units, because the statutory Pugh clause found in 52 O.S. 87.1(b) required it. Furthermore, the Court found that the title of the bill enacting the statutory Pugh clause did not violate Article V, Section 57 of the Oklahoma Constitution and that the effect of the statutory Pugh clause upon Appellee's leasehold interests did not result in an unconstitutional taking in violation of Article II, Section 23 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Lastly, the Court reversed the district court's judgment insofar as it quieted title in Appellee's favor as to leases upon which no well had ever been drilled. View "Hall v. Galmor" on Justia Law
McDonald v. Thompson
On December 20, 2017, Respondents Michael Thompson, Ray Potts, and Mary Lynn Peacher (collectively, Proponents) filed Initiative Petition No. 416, State Question No. 795 (IP 416) with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. IP 416 would create a new Article XIII-C in the Oklahoma Constitution. IP 416 contains 8 sections, which Proponents asserted will levy a new 5% gross production tax on oil and gas production from certain wells, and provide for the deposit of the proceeds primarily in a new fund entitled the "Oklahoma Quality Instruction Fund" (the Fund). Monies from the Fund would be distributed: (1) 90% to Oklahoma common school districts to increase compensation and benefits for certified personnel, and the hiring, recruitment and retention thereof; and (2) 10% to the State Department of Education to promote school readiness, and to support compensation for instructors and other instructional expenses in "high-quality early learning centers" for at-risk children prior to entry into the common education system. The opponent petitioners alleged the gist of the petition was insufficient and misleading. Upon review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the gist of the petition was legally sufficient. View "McDonald v. Thompson" on Justia Law
Benedetti v. Cimarex Energy Co.
In 2013, Frank Benedetti, an employee of Schlumberger Technology Corporation, was working on an oil rig near El Reno, Oklahoma, when he slipped on an icy platform and fell more than thirty feet down a stairwell. Benedetti sued Cimarex Energy Company, the owner and operator of the well site, and Cactus Drilling Company, the owner and operator of the oil rig, for negligence. Cimarex moved to dismiss pursuant to 85 O.S. 2011 section 302(H), which provided that "any operator or owner of an oil or gas well . . . shall be deemed to be an intermediate or principal employer" for purposes of extending immunity from civil liability. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, and Benedetti appealed. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. Pursuant to the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in Strickland v. Stephens Production Co., 2018 OK 6, ___ P.3d ___, the Supreme Court concluded section 302(H) of Title 85 was an impermissible and unconstitutional special law under Art. 5, section 59 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Subsection (H) was severed from the remainder of that provision. View "Benedetti v. Cimarex Energy Co." on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Energy, Oil & Gas Law, Oklahoma Supreme Court, Personal Injury
Strickland v. Stephens Production Co.
An employee of a trucking company was killed while on the job at an oil-well site. The employee's surviving daughter brought a wrongful death action against the owner and operator of the well site, Stephens Production Company. Stephens Production Company moved to dismiss the case pursuant to 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 sec. 5(A), which provides that "any operator or owner of an oil or gas well . . . shall be deemed to be an intermediate or principal employer" for purposes of extending immunity from civil liability. The district court denied the motion to dismiss, finding that section 5(A) of Title 85A was an unconstitutional special law. The trial court certified the order for immediate interlocutory review, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari review. The Supreme Court concluded that the last sentence of section 5(A) of Title 85A was an impermissible and unconstitutional special law under Art. 5, section 59 of the Oklahoma Constitution. The last sentence of section 5(A) was severed from the remainder of that provision. View "Strickland v. Stephens Production Co." on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Energy, Oil & Gas Law, Oklahoma Supreme Court, Personal Injury
Stephens Production Co. v. Larsen
Stephens Production Company sought to condemn underground natural gas storage easements and surface easements to complete an underground natural gas storage facility on and underneath approximately 900 acres of mostly rural property in Haskell County. Approximately 140 Defendants were named in the Petition. Stephens Production had previously offered such Defendants "just market value" for their respective interests, but the Defendants refused the offers. The trial court appointed three commissioners to value just compensation due for each Defendant listed in the Petition. All Defendants except one, appellant Royce Larsen, settled with Stephens Production. The Commissioners valued Larsen's property taken and the damage to the remainder at $12,400.00. Larsen objected to this amount, and his case proceeded to trial. Larsen's expert testified the just compensation value was approximately $419,000.00; Stephens Production's expert valued the just compensation at $9,000.00. The trial court determined that just compensation for the property was $9,000.00. Without any evidence from Larsen regarding the reasonable probability of combination or the market demand for underground gas storage in the area, the highest and best use of the property was the use to which it was subject at the time of the taking - natural resource, agricultural, and recreational use. The Supreme Court concluded the record supported the trial court's valuation of just compensation at $9,000.00. View "Stephens Production Co. v. Larsen" on Justia Law
Posted in: Constitutional Law, Energy, Oil & Gas Law, Oklahoma Supreme Court, Real Estate & Property Law
American Natural Resources, LLC v. Eagle Rock Energy Partners, L.P.
Parties to an agreement regarding an area of mutual interest for the purposes of oil and gas exploration sought to determine their respective rights under the agreement. The agreement gave the respondents in this case the right to participate in wells in futuro. The petitioners urged that the provision violated the rule against perpetuities. The district court agreed and granted judgment to the petitioners. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part remanded the matter for further proceedings. The issues this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether a clause in an agreement giving a limited liability company the right to participate in all future wells on unleased property violated Article II, Section 32 of the Oklahoma Constitution prohibiting perpetuities, and whether a limited liability company was a "life in being." The Court answered the first question in the affirmative and the second question in the negative, finding that the district court did not err in granting a motion to dismiss based on these two questions. View "American Natural Resources, LLC v. Eagle Rock Energy Partners, L.P." on Justia Law
Krug v. Helmerich & Payne, Inc.
This appeal was one of many concerning natural gas wells operated from 1978 to 1998 in Beckham County, Oklahoma. In the immediately preceding appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed a jury verdict for damages for breach of drilling leases for $3,650,000, but reversed two other jury awards in the amounts of $4,055,000.00 and $6,845,000.00. The trial court denied prejudgment interest and the royalty owners appealed. After review, the Supreme Court held that: (1) review of the issue of prejudgment interest is not precluded by the settled-law-of-the-case doctrine; (2) the Production Revenue Standards Act, 52 O.S. 2011 sec. 570 et seq., was inapplicable to the facts presented; and (3) because the plaintiff's claims were unliquidated, prejudgment interest was not recoverable pursuant to 23 O.S. 2011 sec. 6. View "Krug v. Helmerich & Payne, Inc." on Justia Law
Samson Resources Co. v. Newfield Exploration Mid-Continent, Inc.
In August of 2009, Samson Resources Company owned oil and gas leases covering 87.78 mineral acres in Roger Mills County, Oklahoma, including the Schaefer Lease. The Schaefer Lease covered 70 net acres in the Southwest Quarter of Section 28 and had a three-year primary term that ended on November 22, 2007. If drilling operations were commenced by the end of the primary term, the lease would continue so long as such operations continued. On August 2, 2007, Newfield sent a letter to Samson, proposing to drill a well in Section 28. The estimated cost of the well was over $8.5 million dollars. On August 9, 2007, Newfield filed an application with the Commission, seeking to force pool the interests of Samson and other owners in Section 28. Newfield sent an e-mail dated April 14, 2008, to Samson that informed Samson that Newfield had commenced operations prior to the expiration of the Schaefer Lease. Newfield's e-mail stated that Samson had underpaid well costs and that an election to participate with 87.78 acres would require prepayment of $1,411,982.45. Samson responded by e-mail on the same date, informing Newfield its intent was only to elect its 17.78 acres. On April 28, 2008, Samson filed an Application seeking to have its election to participate in the well limited to 17.78 acres rather than 87.78 acres. After an administrative hearing, the Administrative Law Judge determined that Samson's timely election to participate only covered 17.78 acres of its interest and that Samson accepted the cash bonus as to its remaining 70 acres. The Oil and Gas Appellate Referee reversed the ALJ's determination, finding that the ALJ improperly relied on actions which occurred prior to the issuance of the pooling order. The Commission issued Order No. 567706, which adopted the Referee's report, reversed the ALJ, and declared that Samson had elected to participate to the full extent of its 87.78 acre interest in the unit. The Commission found Samson made a "unilateral mistake" when it elected to participate to the full extent of its interest. Samson appealed the Commission's order to the Court of Civil Appeals, which affirmed. Before COCA issued its opinion affirming the Commission, Samson filed an action in the district court alleging actual fraud, deceit, intentional and negligent misrepresentation, constructive fraud, and breach of duty as operator. Samson also alleged Newfield's actions amounted to extrinsic fraud on the Commission, rendering Pooling Order No. 550310 invalid as to Samson's working interest attributable to the 70-acre Schaefer Lease. The trial court granted Newfield's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, finding the petition to be an impermissible collateral attack on a valid Commission order. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. After its review, the Supreme Court found that Samson's actions for damages sounding in tort were beyond the Commission's jurisdiction, and the district court in this case was the proper tribunal for Samson to bring its claims. The trial court's order granting Newfield's Motion to Dismiss was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Samson Resources Co. v. Newfield Exploration Mid-Continent, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Business Law, Contracts, Energy, Oil & Gas Law, Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law, Oklahoma Supreme Court, Real Estate & Property Law
Hubbard v. Kaiser-Francis Oil Co.
In 2004, Plaintiff-Appellant Vick Hubbard filed suit against Defendants Kaiser-Francis Oil Company, Texas Southwest Gas and GBK Corporation for breach of an oil and gas lease and a gas purchase contract. Pursuant to 12 OS Supp. Sec. 1101.1(B), Defendants offered Plaintiff $275 for each of the seven alleged breaches. Plaintiff did not accept the offers and did not submit a counteroffer. By the statute, the offers were deemed rejected. Defendants moved for summary judgment that was granted and entered by the trial court. Plaintiffs appealed. Thereafter, Defendants filed a joint motion to recover their costs and fees based on Plaintiff's failure to obtain a judgment for more that the combined amount of Defendants' offers. In 2005, the parties reached an agreement on litigation costs and attorney fees that were to be paid by Plaintiff. Plaintiff paid that amount and Defendants withdrew their motion. Because of Plaintiff's appeal, the case was remanded to district court. The parties moved for summary judgment. The court granted Defendants' motion. Judgment for Defendants was entered in 2007. Defendants subsequently filed a supplemental joint combined motion for attorney fees for costs they incurred since 2005. In 2008, the district court granted Defendants' motion. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issues presented for review were matters of first impression. Of import in this case was: (1) whether Defendants were entitled to attorney fees under Sec. 1101.1 because they received a summary judgment, and (2) whether a judgment that was appealed and remanded negated Defendants' 1101.1 offer of judgment made prior to the appeal. Upon careful consideration of the arguments, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts' decisions in this case. The Court held that Defendants were entitled to litigation costs, and that the offer of judgment was applicable throughout the case, including through any appeals and remand.