Articles Posted in U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals

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In 2006, Plaintiffs entered into a five-year oil and gas lease covering 47 acres in Ross Township, Ohio, and granting Chesapeake exclusive rights to “all oil and gas and their constituents” for $5.00 per mineral acre per year and a royalty on production. The lease provides for extension, if “Operations” are being “conducted on the Leasehold, or on lands pooled, unitized or combined with all or a portion of the Leasehold.” In 2011, Chesapeake submitted drilling-permit applications for property that did not include Plaintiffs’ property. Later, Chesapeake filed a “Declaration and Notice of Pooled Unit,” consisting of 21 properties, including Plaintiffs’ property, and declared that “operations and/or production … anywhere within the Unit shall be deemed to be operations and/or production on each separate tract sufficient to extend and maintain each included lease in the Unit.” It specified that production from the unit would be allocated among all leases in the unit proportional to the surface area of each lease. Plaintiffs sought a declaration that the lease expired; Chesapeake filed a counterclaim. The district court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs, concluding that Chesapeake’s actions did not extend the lease because the lease required that a permit application pertaining to the leased property or a property already unitized with the leased property, be filed before the expiration of the lease. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded. View "Henry v. Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC" on Justia Law

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REX was unsuccessful in privately obtaining easements from defendants to install an interstate natural-gas pipeline authorized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) under a coal mine in Ohio and had to condemn the easement, 15 U.S.C. 717f. REX built the pipeline and gas began flowing in 2009. Defendants believed that safety concerns regarding the pipeline would delay its mining permits and accelerated its mining, resulting in unanticipated costs associated with inefficient mining techniques. In valuing the easement, the district court determined that the defendants suffered no compensable damages to its coalmining operations as a result of the pipeline. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that FERC found as a matter of fact that the pipeline would not compromise mining and that the two operations could co-exist. View "Rockies Express Pipeline, LLC v. 4.895 Acres of Land, More or Less" on Justia Law

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The Authority was formed under Ga. Code 46-4-82(a) to provide member municipalities with natural gas. It operates as a non-profit, distributing profits and losses to member municipalities: 64 in Georgia, two in Tennessee, 12 in other states. It pays its own operating expenses and judgments; it is exempt from state laws on financing and investment for state entities and has discretion over accumulation, investment, and management of its funds. It sets its governance rules; members elect leaders from among member municipalities. Smyrna, Tennessee has obtained gas from the Authority since 2000, using a pipeline that does not run through Georgia. The Authority entered a multi-year “hedge” contract for gas acquisition, setting price and volume through 2014, and passed the costs on. The market price of natural gas then fell due to increased hydraulic fracturing (fracking), but Smyrna was still paying the higher price. Smyrna sued for breach of contract, violations of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment. The district court denied the Authority’s motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity under Georgia law and the Eleventh Amendment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that the Authority’s claim that any entity referred to as a state “instrumentality” in a Georgia statute is entitled to state-law sovereign immunity “requires quite a stretch of the imagination.” View "Town of Smyrna, TN v. Mun. Gas Auth. of GA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, the owners and lessors of royalty rights to natural gas produced in Trumbull and Mahoning Counties in Ohio, filed a putative class-action lawsuit, alleging that three interrelated energy companies that entered into oil and gas leases with plaintiffs deliberately and fraudulently underpaid gas royalties over more than a decade. Plaintiffs asserted breach of contract and five additional tort and quasi-contract claims and sought compensatory and punitive damages. The district court dismissed, holding that the contract claim was time-barred by Ohio’s four-year statute of limitations and that none of the tort and quasi-contract claims were separate and distinct from the underlying contract action because they did not allege any obligations apart from those imposed by the leases. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part, finding that the district court failed to consider plaintiffs’ fraudulent concealment argument and that allegations regarding due diligence were sufficient to require further analysis. View "Lutz v. Chesapeake Appalachia, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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Dotson died in August 1998. An administrative law judge determined that his wife was entitled to survivor’s benefits under the 2010 Black Lung Amendments, Pub. Law 111-148, 1556(a)–(c). The Sixth Circuit denied the company’s petition for review of the Benefits Review Board decision. The company filed a petition for rehearing, arguing that its case involved an additional issue: whether an award of benefits should commence the month the miner died. The Sixth Circuit denied the petition. The regulation says: “Benefits are payable to a survivor who is entitled beginning with the month of the miner’s death, or January 1, 1974, whichever is later.” 20 C.F.R. 725.503(c). This language was clear before Congress enacted the Amendments, and, by its terms, the widow is entitled to benefits beginning with the month of the miner’s death: August 1998. Rejecting an argument concerning retroactive application, the court stated that “imposition of liability for the effects of disabilities bred in the past is justified as a rational measure to spread the costs of the employees’ disabilities to those who have profited from the fruits of their labor—the operators and the coal consumers.” View "McCoy Elkhorn Coal Corp. v. Dotson" on Justia Law

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In 2007, the Army Corps of Engineers issued two nationwide general permits that authorized surface and underground coalmining operations to discharge dredged and fill material into waters of the United States. The Corps conducted a public notice-and-comment period and completed a cumulative-impacts analysis that projected the permits’ respective environmental impacts before determining that compensatory mitigation would reduce adverse impacts to a minimal level. The Corps disclosed its analyses and findings in each permit’s Environmental Assessment in lieu of an environmental impact statement. Riverkeeper sued, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344(e), the National Environmental Protection Act, 42 U.S.C. 4332(2)(C), and the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 706, during the Corps’ issuance of two nationwide coal-mining waste-discharge permits in 2007. The district court granted summary judgment to the Corps. During Riverkeeper’s appeal, the permits at issue expired. The Sixth Circuit concluded that the case remains in controversy and reversed in part. Although the Corps repeatedly objected to the feasibility of Riverkeeper’s demands, in taking the “easier path” of preparing an environmental assessment instead of an environmental impact statement the Corps failed to follow CWA and NEPA regulations by documenting its assessment of environmental impacts and examining past impacts. View "KY Riverkeeper, Inc. v. Rowlette" on Justia Law

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Seven affiliated debtors are entities that conducted deep and strip coal mining and operated coal prep plants and loading facilities in three states. The bankruptcy court authorized joint procedural administration, but not substantive consolidation. The administrative expense claims at issue arise from environmental damage. The land and the coal were subject to leases that terminated before commencement of bankruptcy proceedings. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) issued mining permits and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits to the debtors and affiliated entities for the operations. The bankruptcy court denied WVDEP’s application for administrative expenses against two debtors. The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel held that the court failed to properly analyze the debtors’ potential liability for reclamation obligations associated with permits owned by their affiliate. WVDEP’s administrative expense claims were properly denied to the extent they were based on derivative liability for the debts of the affiliate, either based on veil piercing or substantive consolidation. The court abused its discretion in denying the claims that were based on direct liability for reclamation obligations associated with the permits owned by the affiliate and in denying claims that were independent of the threshold question of joint and several liability for reclamation obligations associated with the permits owned by an affiliate. View "In re: Appalachian Fuels, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Clean Air Act New Source Review program forbids construction of new pollution sources without a permit, 42 U.S.C. 7475. Operators of major pollutant-emitting sources who plan construction must make a preconstruction projection of the increase in emissions following construction, to determine whether the project constitutes a “major modification,” requiring a permit. DTE planned on replacing 2,000 square feet of tubing, the economizer, and large sections of reheater piping; installing a new nine-ton device that provides voltage that creates the electromagnetic field needed for the rotor to produce electricity; and refurbishing boiler feedwater pumps at its power plant. The project required 83 days and $65 million. DTE performed required calculations and projected an emissions increase of 3,701 tons per year of sulfur dioxide and 4,096 tons per year of nitrogen oxides. Under the regulations, an increase of 40 tons per year of either substance is significant. DTE determined that the increase fell under the demand growth exclusion. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality took no action and construction began. The U.S. EPA filed notice of violation. The district court granted DTE summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. While the regulations allow operators to undertake projects without having EPA second-guess their projections, EPA is not categorically prevented from challenging blatant violations until after modifications are made. View "United States v. DTE Energy Co." on Justia Law

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Columbia Gas disagrees with the Singhs over the scope of an existing pipeline right-of-way. Columbia suit in federal court to enjoin the Singhs and their tenant from engaging in activity that Columbia believed could lead to violations of Columbia’s duties under federal laws regulating natural gas service and pipeline safety. Although the cause of action appeared to be an Ohio interference-with-easement claim, Columbia’s complaint referred to the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. 717–717w, as a basis for federal jurisdiction. Without explicitly addressing jurisdiction, the district court held a status conference at which the parties reached a settlement. When the Singhs refused to comply with Columbia’s understanding of the settlement, the district court granted Columbia’s motion to enforce the settlement. The Sixth Circuit vacated, holding that the district court did not have jurisdiction over this property dispute between nondiverse parties. Columbia’s complaint neither asserted a federal cause of action nor showed that a substantial federal interest was implicated by its state-law claim. View "Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC v. Singh" on Justia Law

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Watson’s father, Hickle, worked for the Department of Energy, 1954 to 1962. Hickle died of Hodgkin’s disease in 1964. Congress enacted the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act in 2000 to compensate for illnesses caused by exposure to radiation and other toxic substances while working for the Department of Energy. Covered employees or eligible survivors may receive compensation in a lump sum payment; under specific circumstances, a covered employee’s child is also eligible, 42 U.S.C. 7385s-3(d)(2). When her father died, Watson was 19 years old, not a full-time student; she lived with her parents, worked as a waitress, relied on her parents for support, and was listed as a dependent on their income tax returns. She sought survivor benefits in 2002 and received a lump-sum payment of $150,000. She later claimed further compensation as a “covered child,” under a different section of the Act, arguing that she was “incapable of self-support” at the time of Hickle’s death. The Department of Labor denied her claim. Before the district court, Watson challenged the interpretation of “incapable of self-support,” claiming that the Department impermissibly required a showing of physical or mental incapability. The district court denied her motion for summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Watson v. Solis" on Justia Law