Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Leathers v. Leathers
This case involved a dispute over the ownership of mineral rights appurtenant to several tracts of land located in Haskell County, Kansas. Michael Leathers and his brother Ronald Leathers each inherited half of these mineral rights from their mother. But an error in a quit claim deed subsequently executed between the brothers left it unclear whether Ronald’s one-half interest in the mineral estate had been conveyed to Michael. In a series of orders spanning several years, the district court (1) reformed the quit claim deed to reflect that Ronald had reserved his one-half interest in the mineral estate; (2) awarded half of Ronald’s one-half interest to Ronald’s wife Theresa (pursuant to Ronald and Theresa’s divorce decree); and (3) held that Ronald owed approximately $1.5 million to the IRS and that the IRS’s tax liens had first priority to any present and future royalties due to Ronald from his remaining one-quarter mineral interest. Ronald appealed, but finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment with respect to the reformation and the interests, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court on all grounds. View "Leathers v. Leathers" on Justia Law
Fletcher v. United States
Plaintiffs-Appellants, a certified class of Osage tribal members who owned headrights, appealed the district court’s accounting order. Plaintiffs alleged that the government was improperly distributing royalties to non-Osage tribal members, which diluted the royalties for the Osage tribal members, the rightful headright owners. The complaint attributed this misdistribution to the government’s mismanagement of the trust assets and the government’s failure to perform an accounting. Thus, Plaintiffs sought to compel the government to perform an accounting and to prospectively restrict royalty payments to Osage tribal members and their heirs. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ accounting claim because it found that the applicable statute only required the government to account for deposits, not withdrawals, and that such an accounting would not support Plaintiffs’ misdistribution claim. After review, the Tenth Circuit could not say the district court abused its discretion. "The accounting the district court fashioned will certainly inform Plaintiffs of the trust receipts and disbursements and to whom those disbursements were made." View "Fletcher v. United States" on Justia Law
Buccaneer Energy v. Gunnison Energy
Buccaneer Energy (USA) Inc. sued SG Interests I, Ltd., SG Interests VII, Ltd. (together, “SG”), and Gunnison Energy Corporation (“GEC”) (collectively, “Defendants”) after unsuccessfully seeking an agreement to transport natural gas on Defendants’ jointly owned pipeline system at a price Buccaneer considered reasonable. Specifically, Buccaneer alleged that by refusing to provide reasonable access to the system, Defendants had conspired in restraint of trade and conspired to monopolize in violation of sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, respectively. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants, concluding that Buccaneer could not establish either of its antitrust claims and that, in any event, Buccaneer lacked antitrust standing. The Tenth Circuit agreed that Buccaneer failed to present sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of fact on one or more elements of each of its claims, and therefore affirmed on that dispositive basis alone. View "Buccaneer Energy v. Gunnison Energy" on Justia Law
In re: Natural Gas Royalties Qui Tam Litigation
Relator-Appellant Jack Grynberg appealed two district court orders awarding attorney fees. In 1995, Grynberg filed an action in federal district court for the District of Columbia alleging 70 companies in the natural gas industry violated the False Claims Act (FCA). Specifically, he accused the defendants of using techniques that under-measured the gas they extracted from federal and Indian lands under lease agreements. Sixty of the defendants filed motions to dismiss, which the district court granted. It held the defendants were improperly joined under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20, and that Grynberg's complaint failed to satisfy the particularized pleading requirement of Rule 9(b). Three months after "Grynberg I's" dismissal, Grynberg began filing 73 separate lawsuits against more than 300 companies in the natural gas industry. The 73 complaints, which closely resembled one another, formed the basis of this case. In this, "Grynberg II," Grynberg moved to consolidate the cases as an Multi-District Litigation (MDL), and they were eventually consolidated in federal district court for the District of Wyoming. Between the dismissal in Grynberg I and filing the complaints in Grynberg II, Grynberg served Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") requests with the Minerals Management Service ("MMS"), seeking data on pipeline company-purchasers of natural gas. Grynberg created "Exhibit B's" to his complaints from that MMS data, which allegedly showed the defendants were mismeasuring gas. The inaccuracy of the Exhibit Bs did not surface until long after the complaints were filed and after the government conducted a time-consuming investigation. Without yet knowing the Exhibit Bs were inaccurate, the district court denied motions to dismiss for lack of particularity under Rule 9(b), which the court read as requiring a complaint to state the "time, place and contents of the false representation, [and] the identity of the party making the false statements." After surviving the motions to dismiss, Grynberg then faced the defendants' motions for summary judgment, which argued the complaints were based on publicly disclosed information and Grynberg was not an "original source" of the information. Following discovery, a special master recommended 40 of the 73 cases be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The district court went further by holding that all 73 cases were jurisdictionally barred. Following the dismissal of the claims and the Tenth Circuit's decision in the first appeal, the district court entered two orders awarding attorney fees: (1) under the FCA's fee-shifting provision; and (2) fees relating to the first appeal on the original-source question. Between the two orders, the court granted 35 defendant groups attorney fees totaling nearly $17 million. As to the remaining defendants in this appeal, around $5.5 million of attorney fees was awarded to the FCA Appellees for district court proceedings, and around $1 million of attorney fees was awarded to the Appellate-Fee Appellees for the first appeal. Grynberg appealed the award of fees under the FCA as to seven defendant groups. He appealed the award of fees to 13 other defendant groups. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the FCA fees, but reversed the appellate-related attorney fees. View "In re: Natural Gas Royalties Qui Tam Litigation" on Justia Law
Dine Citizens v. Jewell
Plaintiffs appealed the district court’s denial of their request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the drilling of certain oil and gas wells in the Mancos Shale formation of the San Juan Basin in New Mexico. The district court concluded that Plaintiffs had failed to satisfy three of the four elements required to obtain a preliminary injunction: (1) Plaintiffs had not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claims; (2) the balance of harms weighed against Plaintiffs; and (3) Plaintiffs failed to show that the public interest favored an injunction. Finding no reversible error in the district court's denial, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Dine Citizens v. Jewell" on Justia Law
Sundance Energy Oklahoma v. Dan D Drilling Corp.
Sundance Energy Oklahoma, LLC, brought suit against Dan D. Drilling Corporation for damages resulting from the total loss of an oil and gas well. A jury found in favor of Sundance Energy, and the district court denied Dan D.'s motion for a new trial. On appeal, Dan D. argued the district court erred in: (1) giving one jury instruction and omitting another; (2) admitting certain evidence; and (3) awarding Sundance attorney’s fees. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Sundance Energy Oklahoma v. Dan D Drilling Corp." on Justia Law
Trans-Western Petroleum v. United States Gypsum Co.
At the heart of this case was a 2004 oil and gas lease with a five-year term between Trans-Western Petroleum, Inc. and United States Gypsum Co. (“USG”). Trans-Western contacted USG to lease its land at the conclusion of an existing lease between USG and Wolverine Oil & Gas. USG and Trans-Western agreed to terms, and Trans-Western recorded its lease. Wolverine protested the recording of the new lease, claiming that its lease with USG remained valid under pooling and unitization provisions contained in its lease. In response to the protest, USG, in writing and by phone, rescinded the Trans-Western lease. Trans-Western sued for a declaration that the Wolverine lease expired. The district court determined that the Wolverine lease had expired. As part of their agreement, USG and Trans-Western executed a ratification and lease extension. Armed with the determination that the Wolverine lease was no longer in effect, in 2010, Trans-Western also filed a second amended complaint, seeking a declaratory judgment that its lease with USG was valid and damages for breach of contract and breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, among other claims. The district court granted partial summary judgment to Trans-Western, determining that USG had breached the lease but denied attorney’s fees due to disputed material facts on damages. During a bench trial on damages, Trans-Western contended that it was entitled to expectation damages for both breach of contract and breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment because USG deprived it of the opportunity to assign the lease during its five-year term. USG contended, inter alia, that damages for the breach of an oil and gas lease, like any real property, were measured at the date of breach and not pegged to a hypothetical sale at the market’s peak. The district court rejected Trans-Western’s damages theories, finding that Trans-Western was entitled only to nominal damages based on the value of the contract on the date of breach, which had not increased since the date of execution. The Tenth Circuit certified a question of how expectation damages for the breach of an oil and gas lease should have been measured to the Utah Supreme Court. The Utah Supreme Court held that general (or direct) and consequential (or special) damages were available for the breach of an oil and gas lease and should be measured in “much the same way as expectation damages for the breach of any other contract.” In light of the Utah Supreme Court’s holding, the Tenth Circuit remanded this case to the district court for consideration of damages. View "Trans-Western Petroleum v. United States Gypsum Co." on Justia Law
Lexington Insurance v. Precision Drilling
Darrell Jent suffered serious injuries while working on an oil rig. The rig’s owner, Precision Drilling Company, L.P., paid him a settlement, then made a claim on its insurance. The insurance company, Lexington Insurance Company, denied the claim. Precision sued, contending that Lexington should have reimbursed the money it paid Jent. Lexington issued two insurance policies covering Precision for accidents exactly like Jent's. However, Lexington argued that under Wyoming state law, the policies were a nullity, so any coverage here was more illusory than real and that Precision was solely responsible. "There can be no doubt that Wyoming law usually prohibits those engaged in the oil and gas industry from contractually shifting to others liability for their own negligence." The district court agreed with Lexington and granted its motion for summary judgment. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed, finding that the district court misinterpreted the statute that was grounds for Lexington's motion. The case was then remanded for further proceedings. View "Lexington Insurance v. Precision Drilling" on Justia Law
Sierra Club v. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co.
Sierra Club brought a citizen suit seeking civil penalties against Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company “(OG&E)” for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. Sierra Club claimed that in March and April 2008, OG&E, the owner and operator of a coal-fired power plant in Muskogee, modified a boiler at the plant without first obtaining an emission-regulating permit as required under the Act. Because Sierra Club filed its action more than five years after construction began on the plant, the district court dismissed its claim under Rule 12(b)(6) on statute of limitations grounds. The court also dismissed Sierra Club’s claims for declaratory and injunctive relief because these remedies were predicated on the unavailable claim for civil penalties. Finding no error in the district court's conclusions, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Sierra Club v. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co." on Justia Law
Schell v. OXY USA
Appellant/cross-appellee OXY USA Inc. appealed the grant of summary judgment to appellees/cross-appellants, a class of plaintiffs represented by David and Donna Schell, and Ron Oliver, on the question of whether their oil and gas leases required OXY to make "free gas" useable for domestic purposes. OXY also appealed: the district court’s certification of plaintiffs' class; the denial of a motion to decertify; and an order to quash the deposition of an absent class member. Plaintiffs cross-appealed the district court's: denial of their motion for attorneys' fees; denial of their motion for litigation expenses; and denial of an incentive award. Notably, plaintiffs also moved to dismiss the appeal as moot. OXY opposed dismissal for mootness, but argued that if the Tenth Circuit found mootness, the Court should vacate the district court’s decision. Appellees/cross-appellants were approximately 2,200 surface owners of Kansas land burdened by oil and gas leases held or operated by OXY, executed separately from approximately 1906 to 2007. The leases contained a "free gas" clause. The clauses weren't identical, but all, in substance, purported to grant the lessor access to free gas for domestic use. All of the plaintiffs who have used free gas obtain their gas from a tap connected directly to a wellhead line. In addition, some members of the plaintiff class (including about half of the current users of free gas) received royalty payments from OXY based on the production of gas on their land. In August 2007, OXY sent letters warning free gas users that their gas may become unsafe to use, either because of high hydrogen sulfide content or low pressure at the wellhead. These letters urged the lessors to convert their houses to an alternative energy source. On August 31, 2007, leaseholders David Schell, Donna Schell, Howard Pickens, and Ron Oliver filed this action on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, seeking a permanent injunction, a declaratory judgment, and actual damages based on alleged breaches of mineral leases entered into with OXY for failure to supply free usable gas. After review of the matter, the Tenth Circuit held that that OXY’s sale of the oil and gas leases at issue here mooted its appeal; therefore, the Court granted plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss. Nevertheless, the Court concluded that the cross-appeal had not been mooted by this sale, and affirmed the district court’s judgment as to the denial of attorneys’ fees, litigation expenses, and an incentive award. View "Schell v. OXY USA" on Justia Law