Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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The issues this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on: (1) whether the penalty imposed against HIKO Energy, LLC (HIKO) was so grossly disproportionate as to violate the Excessive Fines Clause of the Pennsylvania and U.S. Constitutions; (2) whether the penalty impermissibly punished HIKO for litigating; and (3) whether the Pennsylvania Utility Commission (PUC) abused its discretion in imposing a penalty which was not supported by substantial evidence. The Supreme Court concluded HIKO waived its constitutional challenge to the civil penalty in this case, the penalty was not imposed as a punishment against HIKO for opting to litigate its case, and that the PUC’s conclusions in support of imposing the penalty were supported by substantial evidence. View "HIKO Energy, Aplt. v. PA PUC" on Justia Law

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The issue presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this appeal centered on whether producers of natural gas from certain vertical wells were subject to assessment of a yearly impact fee established by Chapter 23 of the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act (“Act 13”). The vertical wells that at issue used the hydraulic fracturing process ("fracking") to extract natural gas through a vertical well bore from Marcellus Shale. Specifically, the issue centered on whether an impact fee would be assessed whenever a vertical well’s production exceeded an average of 90,000 cubic feet of natural gas per day for even one month of the year, or whether the well must exceed this production threshold in every month of the year, for the fee to be imposed. After careful review, the Supreme Court concluded that, under the relevant provisions of Act 13, the impact fee would be imposed on such wells if their production exceeds 90,000 cubic feet of natural gas per day for even one month of the year, as found by the Public Utility Commission (“PUC”). Therefore, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s order, which had reversed the PUC; the PUC's order was reinstated. View "PA Independent Oil & Gas Assoc. v. PUC" on Justia Law

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Appellee, the Marcellus Shale Coalition (“MSC”), filed in the Commonwealth Court’s original jurisdiction a petition for review in the nature of a complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief (the “Petition”), on behalf of itself and its members. MSC challenged the validity of several regulations relating to unconventional gas well operations as governed by Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act of 2012 (known as Act 13). MSC alleged that certain provisions were void and unenforceable for multiple reasons, including that they were vague, lacked statutory authorization, and conflicted with other regulations and statutes applicable to the industry. Furthermore, MSC averred that the rulemaking process did not comply with the Regulatory Review Act, and that the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board (the “EQB”) failed to develop criteria for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) to use in conditioning a drilling permit on relevant factors. The Commonwealth Court issued a single-judge, unpublished opinion and order, granting in part and denying in part preliminary injunctive relief. The Commonwealth Court also issued an order granting in part and denying in part MSC's Application for Expedited Special Relief. The order preliminarily enjoined DEP from implementing and enforcing certain sections of the Act. After its review of the parties' arguments on appeal of the Commonwealth Court order, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Supreme Court affirmed the grant of preliminary injunctive relief as to Counts I and II. As for Count IV, the Court affirmed the grant of relief as to Section 78a.59c, but reversed the grant of relief as to Section 78a.59b(b). Finally, the Court reversed the grant of preliminary injunctive relief as to Count V. View "Marcellus Shale Coalition v. Dept. Environmental Protection" on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the issue reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether the Commonwealth Court erred in reversing the decision of the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas, which, in turn, had reversed the decision of the Fairfield Township Board of Supervisors (the “Board”) to allow for the drilling, construction, development and operation of unconventional natural gas wells as a conditional use in a district zoned Residential-Agricultural (“R-A”). The Supreme Court determined after review of the evidentiary record, the Board's decision was not supported by the evidence, and because the proposed use was not similar to any permitted use in the R-A district as required under the Fairfield Township Zoning Ordinance (the “Ordinance”), the Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court. View "Gorsline v Bd. of Sup. of Fairfield Twp." on Justia Law

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In February 2012, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed Act 13, a "sweeping" law regulating the oil and gas industry, which, inter alia, repealed parts of the existing Oil and Gas Act of 1984 codified in Title 58 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, and created six new chapters therein. The specific provisions of two of which, Chapters 32 and 33, were at issue in this appeal. The questions raised in this appeal involved Sections 3218.1, 3222.1, and 3241 of Chapter 32, and Sections 3305 through 3309 of Chapter 33. This appeal was consolidated from the decision of the Commonwealth Court following the Supreme Court's remand to that court to resolve open issues pursuant to a mandate in "Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," (83 A.3d 901 (2013) (“Robinson II”)). In that case, the Supreme Court struck the entirety of Sections 3215(b), 3215(d), 3303, and 3304 of Act 13 of Feb. 14, 2012, P.L. 87 (“Act 13”), as violative of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and the Court enjoined the application and enforcement of Section 3215(c) and (e) and Sections 3305 through 3309, to the extent that they implemented or enforced the provisions of Act 13 which was invalidated. The Supreme Court affirmed the portion of the order the Commonwealth Court issued on remand, “Robinson III”, holding that Sections 3305 through 3309 were not severable from Sections 3303 and 3304, and the Court also upheld its conclusion that the passage of Act 13 did not violate Article III, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (the “single subject rule”). However, because the Supreme Court concluded that Sections 3218.1, 3222.1(b)(10) and 3222.1(b)(11) contravened Article III, Section 32 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, due to the Court's determination that they constituted special legislation, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s order upholding these sections, and enjoined their further application and enforcement. In that regard, the Supreme Court stayed its mandate with respect to Section 3218.1 for 180 days in order to give the General Assembly sufficient time to enact remedial legislation. Further, because the Court determined that Section 3241 was unconstitutional on its face, it reversed the Commonwealth Court’s order and directed this provision be stricken as well, and enjoined from further application and enforcement. View "Robinson Twp, et al v. Public Utility Commission" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the Superior Court properly applied the doctrine of estoppel by deed to conclude that an oil and gas lease between Appellee, Anadarko E. & P. Co., L.P. and Appellants, Leo and Sandra Shedden, covered the oil and gas rights to 100% of the property identified in the lease, notwithstanding the fact that, unbeknownst to them, Appellants owned only a one-half interest in the oil and gas rights to the property at the time the lease was executed, and, consequently, received a bonus payment only for the oil and gas rights they actually owned. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the Superior Court properly affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Anadarko based on estoppel by deed. View "Shedden v. Anadarko E&P Co." on Justia Law

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Through Pennsylvania’s Land Recycling and Environmental Remediation Standards Act, ("Act 2"), the General Assembly created a scheme for establishing “cleanup standards” applicable to voluntary efforts to remediate environmental contamination for which a person or entity may bear legal responsibility. Appellant EQT Production Company (“EPC”), owned and operated natural gas wells in the Commonwealth. In May 2012, the company notified Appellee, the Department of Environmental Protection (the “Department” or “DEP”), that it had discovered leaks in one of its subsurface impoundments containing water that had been contaminated during hydraulic fracturing operations. Subsequently, EPC cleared the site of impaired water and sludge and commenced a formal cleanup process pursuant to Act 2. In May 2014, the agency tendered to EPC a proposed “Consent Assessment of Civil Penalty,” seeking to settle the penalty question via a payment demand of $1,270,871, subsuming approximately $900,000 attending asserted ongoing violations. EPC disputed the Department’s assessment, maintaining that: penalties could not exceed those accruing during the time period in which contaminants actually were discharged from the company’s impoundment; all such actual discharges ended in June 2012; and the Act 2 regime controlled the extent of the essential remediation efforts. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether ECT had the right to immediately seek a judicial declaration that the DEP's interpretation of the Act was erroneous. The Court held that the impact of the Department’s threat of multi-million dollar assessments against EPC was sufficiently direct, immediate, and substantial to create a case or controversy justifying pre-enforcement judicial review via a declaratory judgment proceeding, and that exhaustion of administrative remedies relative to the issues of statutory interpretation that the company has presented was unnecessary. View "EQT Production Co. v. DEP" on Justia Law