Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals
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Banks worked as a coal miner for 17 years and smoked about one pack of cigarettes per day for 38 years. His employment ended in 1991. After two unsuccessful attempts, in 2003, Banks filed a claim for benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, which provides benefits to coal miners who become disabled due to pneumoconiosis, 30 U.S.C. 901. An ALJ found that Banks had shown a change in his condition and that he suffered from legal pneumoconiosis which substantially contributed to his total disability. Banks was awarded benefits and the Benefits Review Board affirmed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, adopting the regulatory interpretation urged by the Director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs. The ALJ relied on reasoned medical opinions. View "Cumberland River Coal Co. v. Banks" on Justia Law

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Summit’s natural gas sweetening plant in Michigan makes gas usable by removing hydrogen sulfide. Summit owns all of the production wells and subsurface pipelines that connect wells to the plant. The wells are located over a 43-square-mile area, from 500 feet to eight miles from the plant. Summit does not own property between the wells or property between the wells and the plant. Flares burn off gas waste to relieve pressure on gas collection equipment. The closest flare is about one half-mile from the plant, others are over one mile away. The plant and most of the wells and flares are located on a tribal reservation. All emit sulfur dioxides and nitrous oxides, air pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401-7671q. The plant alone has potential to emit just under 100 tons of these pollutants per year. Each flare and well has potential to emit lower amounts. The EPA determined that the plant, flares, and wells constituted a single stationary source under the CAA. The Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded for determination of whether the plant and wells are sufficiently physically proximate to be considered “adjacent” within the ordinary meaning of that requirement. Interpreting the requirement in terms of mere functional relatedness was unreasonable. View "Summit Petroleum Corp. v. U.S. Envtl. Prot. Agency" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs invested in oil-and-gas exploration companies and lost money when the companies’ wells produced little oil or gas. They sued the companies and their officers, claiming violations of state and federal law in selling unregistered securities and in making other material misrepresentations and omissions. They also sued Durham, the lawyer who represented the companies. Durham drafted the documents, including joint-venture agreements and private placement memoranda that provided details about the investment opportunity, and told prospective investors he was available to answer questions. Plaintiffs allege that Durham knew the documents contained material misrepresentations and omissions and that the securities were neither registered nor exempt from registration. District courts ruled in favor of Durham. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Kentucky Securities Act imposes liability on anyone who “offers or sells a security” in violation of its terms and any “agent” of the seller who “materially aids” the sale of securities, defined as someone who “effect[s] or attempt[s] to effect” the sale. Ky. Rev. Stat. 292.480(1),(4); 292.310(1). An attorney who performs ordinary legal work, such as drafting documents, giving advice and answering client questions, is not an “agent” under the Act. View "Bennett v. Durham" on Justia Law

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Ohio individuals and businesses sued Duke Energy, alleging violation of the Robinson-Patman Act , 15 U.S.C. 13, Ohio's Pattern of Corrupt Activity Act, a civil RICO claim, 18 U.S.C. 1962(c), and common-law claims of fraud and civil conspiracy. Plaintiffs alleged that Duke, through subsidiaries and an affiliated company, paid unlawful and substantial rebates to certain large customers, including General Motors, in exchange for the withdrawal by said customers of objections to a rate-stabilization plan that Duke was attempting to have approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio as part of a transition to market-based pricing under Ohio Rev. Code 4928.05, enacted in 1999. The district court dismissed, finding that it was deprived of federal question jurisdiction by the filed-rate doctrine, requiring that common carriers and their customers adhere to tariffs filed and approved by the appropriate regulatory agencies, and that PUCO had exclusive jurisdiction over state-law claims, depriving the court of diversity jurisdiction. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that the filed-rate doctrine applies only in challenges to the underlying reasonableness or setting of filed rates and that plaintiffs adequately stated claims. View "Williams v. Duke Energy Int'l, Inc." on Justia Law

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In addition to about $4 million invested through his family corporation, Nonneman personally invested about $15 million in OKO for domestic oil and gas exploration, although he had no experience in such businesses, was showing signs of dementia, and suffered disabilities. In 2003, Nolfi assumed management of Nonneman’s affairs and it was apparent that the OKO investments would yield no returns. Of 128 wells, only 11 produced oil, and did not produce enough to recoup the investment. Nolfi filed suit in Ohio state court and learned facts that gave rise to federal and state securities claims. He filed in federal court, alleging violations of the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b) and 77l(a)(1); violations of the Ohio Blue Sky laws by the sale of unregistered securities; federal securities fraud; misrepresentation; common law fraud; breach of fiduciary duties; and breach of contract. The cases were consolidated and, after complicated rulings concerning limitations periods, the district court entered judgment for Nonneman. Despite having stated rescissory damages as more than $7 million, the jury only listed an award of $1,777,909 on its verdict form. The court held that plaintiffs had waived their right to challenge the verdict. Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Nolfi v. OH KY Oil Corp." on Justia Law

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Nonneman, acting through Fencorp, a family investment corporation, invested $3,980,345.50 in OKO for domestic oil and gas exploration, although he had no experience in such businesses, was showing signs of dementia, and suffered disabilities. In 2003, Nolfi assumed management of Nonneman’s affairs and it was apparent that the OKO investments would yield no returns. Of 128 wells, only 11 produced oil, and did not produce enough to recoup the investment. Nolfi filed suit in Ohio state court. During discovery plaintiffs learned facts indicating federal and state securities violations and filed in federal court, alleging violations of the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. 77l(a)(1); violations of the Ohio Blue Sky laws by the sale of unregistered securities; federal securities fraud; common law fraud; misrepresentation; breach of fiduciary duties; and breach of contract. After a complicated set of rulings, the district court awarded Fencorp $1,012,835.50, the maximum not barred by the statute of repose. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part, upholding rulings concerning the statute of repose, but setting aside the verdict on the state common law fraud claim and directing reinstatement of the verdict on the federal securities claim ($847,858). View "Fencorp Co. v. OH KY Oil Corp." on Justia Law

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An underground pipeline leaked gasoline five times between 1948 and 1962. After tests revealed benzene in wells, not including the plaintiffs' well, the company conducted remediation and monitoring and purchased the property now owned by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs bought the property and a low level of benzene was detected in the well in 1996. The company installed a new well, which tested free of benzene 22 times between 1997 and 2002. Benzene was detected at a very low level in 2003 and the plaintiffs moved in 2005. In 2002 one of the plaintiffs was diagnosed, at age 48, with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The district court entered summary judgment for the company. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The district court acted within its discretion in excluding, as unreliable under the Daubert standard, an expert's specific-causation opinion. The expert did not ascertain the level of plaintiff's exposure and the level of benzene in the well never exceeded the EPA's standard; the expert did not rule out other possible causes, such as the plaintiff's smoking.