Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
David Holbrook v. Tennessee Valley Authority
The Tennessee Valley Authority sells its power to the BVU Authority in Virginia, one of its many customers. The BVU Authority in turn sells its power to local consumers who need electricity. Among those local consumers is Plaintiff, who believes that the TVA has a statutory duty to use the fruits of its sales to large industrial buyers to subsidize consumers’ electricity consumption. Plaintiff believes that a string of TVA rate changes, shifting costs from industry to consumers, were illegal. So he sued BVU Authority and TVA under three theories, which all more or less amount to claims that the TVA failed to live up to its statutory duties under Section 11. The district court dismissed all three claims because TVA’s rate-making authority is committed to agency discretion and thus unreviewable. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of all three of Plaintiff’s claims. The court explained that Section 11 of the TVA Act lays out broad policies and goals that operate more like aspirations than commands. It does not support any of the claims that Plaintiff offers against TVA or BVU Authority. TVA rate-making is a presumptively unreviewable category of agency action under 701(a)(2), and the policy-laden language of Section 11 does not provide any guidelines or limits to overcome that presumption. Because the TVA-BVU contract simply repeats the vague statutory language, Plaintiff’s contract claim is really a statutory claim in disguise, and Section 11 of the TVA Act does not provide a private cause of action. View "David Holbrook v. Tennessee Valley Authority" on Justia Law
Newfield Exploration Company, et al. v. North Dakota, et al.
The State of North Dakota, ex rel. the North Dakota Board of University and School Lands, and the Office of the Commissioner of University and School Lands, a/k/a the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands appealed a judgment dismissing its claim against Newfield Exploration Company relating to the underpayment of gas royalties. The North Dakota Supreme Court found that the district court concluded the State did not establish a legal obligation owed by Newfield. However, the State pled N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1 in its counterclaim, which the court recognized at trial. Because the State satisfied both the pleading and the proof requirements of N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1, the Supreme Court held the district court erred in concluding the State did not prove Newfield owed it a legal obligation to pay additional royalties. Rather, as the well operator, Newfield owed the State an obligation under N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1 to pay royalties according to the State’s leases. The court failed to recognize Newfield’s legal obligations as a well operator under N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1. The Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in dismissing the State's counterclaim; therefore, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for findings related to the State's damages and Newfield's affirmative defenses. View "Newfield Exploration Company, et al. v. North Dakota, et al." on Justia Law
TEP Rocky Mountain LLC v. Record TJ Ranch Limited Partnership
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment the district court denying TEP Rocky Mountain LLC's (TEP RM) motion to dismiss this action, granting summary judgment to Record TJ Ranch Limited Partnership (TJ Ranch) on several issues, and ruling that TEP RM had breached the parties' agreements, holding that there was no error.TJ Ranch brought this action seeking payment under a surface use and damage agreement governing oil and gas development and production of ranch lands. TEP RM filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, which the district court denied. The court ultimately concluded that TJ Ranch was entitled to payment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) correctly exercised personal jurisdiction over TEP RM; (2) did not clearly err in its findings; and (3) did not abuse its discretion in denying TEP RM's motions to stay. View "TEP Rocky Mountain LLC v. Record TJ Ranch Limited Partnership" on Justia Law
SWN Production Co., LLC v. Kellam
The Supreme Court answered certified questions seeking to clarify whether, in payment of royalties under an oil and gas lease, the lessor may be required to bear a portion of the post-production costs incurred in rendering the oil and gas marketable.Specifically, the district court asked whether Estate of Tawyne v. Columbia Natural Resources, LLC, 633 S.E.2d 22 (W. Va. 2006) is still good law in West Virginia and then asked the Supreme Court to expound upon its holding in Tawney. The Supreme Court answered (1) Tawney is still good law; and (2) this Court defines to answer the reformulated question of what level of specificity Tawney requires of an oil and gas lease to permit the deduction of post-production costs from a lessor's royalty payments. View "SWN Production Co., LLC v. Kellam" on Justia Law
Crown Energy Co. v. Mid-Continent Casualty Co.
Crown Energy Company ("Crown") brought suit against Mid-Continent Casualty Company ("Mid-Continent") seeking declaratory judgment that two commercial general liability policies issued to Crown provided coverage for claims of property damage brought against Crown in a separate action. The claims arose out of seismic activity allegedly caused by Crown's use of waste water disposal wells in its oil and gas operations. Mid-Continent filed a counterclaim, seeking declaratory judgment that the claims were not covered under the policies because the seismic activity did not constitute an "occurrence" and that the claims fell within a pollution exclusion to the policies. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Crown. Mid-Continent appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment. After its review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that the seismic activity did constitute an occurrence under the policies, and that the pollution exclusion did not bar coverage. The Court of Civil Appeals’ judgment was reversed and the trial court affirmed. View "Crown Energy Co. v. Mid-Continent Casualty Co." on Justia Law
Continental Resources v. Wolla Oilfield Services
The United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma certified two questions of law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court relating to the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act, and whether it applied to conduct outside of Oklahoma. The matter concenred a dispute between Continental Resources, Inc. (Continental), an oil and gas producer headquartered in Oklahoma, and Wolla Oilfield Services, LLC (Wolla), a North Dakota limited liability company that operated as a hot oil service provider in North Dakota. Continental alleged the parties entered into an agreement for Wolla to provide hot oil services at an hourly rate to Continental's wells in North Dakota. As part of the contract, Wolla agreed to submit its invoices through an "online billing system" and to bill accurately and comprehensively for work it performed. A whistleblower in Wolla's accounting department notified Continental about systematic overbilling in connection with this arrangement. Continental conducted an audit and concluded Wolla's employees were overbilling it for time worked. Wolla denies these allegations. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded: (1) the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act does not apply to a consumer transaction when the offending conduct that triggers the Act occurs solely within the physical boundaries of another state; and (2) the Act also does not apply to conduct where, even if the physical location is difficult to pinpoint, such actions or transactions have a material impact on, or material nexus to, a consumer in the state of Oklahoma. View "Continental Resources v. Wolla Oilfield Services" on Justia Law
French v. Ascent Resources-Utica, LLC
The Supreme Court held that an action seeking a determination that an oil and gas lease has expired by its own terms is a controversy "involving the title to or the possession of real estate" so that the action is exempt from arbitration under Ohio Rev. Code 2711.01(B)(1).Appellants brought an action for declaratory judgment alleging that oil and gas leases between the parties had terminated because Appellee failed to produce oil or gas or to commence drilling operations within the terms of the lease. Appellee moved to stay pending arbitration. The trial court denied the request, concluding that Appellants' claims involved the title to or the possession of real property, and therefore, were exempt from arbitration under Ohio Rev. Code 2711.01(B)(1). The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding the trial court correctly declined to stay the action in this case pending arbitration. View "French v. Ascent Resources-Utica, LLC" on Justia Law
Cimarex Energy Co. v. CP Well Testing L.L.C.
CP and Cimarex entered into the Master Service Agreement (MSA). Cimarex hired CP to work at Cimarex’s Oklahoma oil well. CP assigned Trent, an employee of one of its subcontractors, to work at the well. A flash fire occurred at the well. Trent was severely burned Trent sued Cimarex and CP. Cimarex and its insurers settled with Trent for $4.5 million. The Texas Oilfield Anti-Indemnity Act (TOAIA) voids indemnity agreements that pertain to wells for oil, gas, or water or to mineral mines unless the indemnity agreement is supported by liability insurance. The MSA's mutual indemnity provision required Cimarex and CP to indemnify each other; CP was obligated to obtain a minimum of $1 million in commercial general liability insurance and $2 million in excess liability insurance, Cimarex was required to obtain $1 million in general liability insurance and $25 million in excess liability insurance. CP obtained more coverage than the minimum required by the MSA, but its policy limited indemnity coverage. Cimarex sought indemnity from CP, which paid Cimarex $3 million, but refused to indemnify Cimarex for the remaining $1.5 million.The Fifth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for CP. TOAIA contemplates that mutual indemnity obligations will be enforceable only up to the limits of insurance each party has agreed to provide in equal amounts to the other party as indemnitee. CP did not breach the MSA because CP was only required to indemnify Cimarex up to $3 million. View "Cimarex Energy Co. v. CP Well Testing L.L.C." on Justia Law
Nettye Engler Energy, LP v. Bluestone Natural Resources II, LLC
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals rendering judgment that delivery of the grantor's fractional share in the pipeline occurred in the gathering pipeline rather than the transportation pipeline, holding that the court of appeals did not err.A deed conveying the mineral estate in this case reserved a nonparticipating royalty interest in kind, meaning that the grantor retained ownership of a fractional share of all minerals in place. The deed required delivery of the grantor's fractional share "free of cost in the pipe line, if any, otherwise free of cost at the mouth of the well or mine[.]" The parties agreed that the royalty did not include production and postproduction costs incurred before delivery into the existing gas pipeline but disagreed about the pipeline's location under the terms of the deed. The trial court concluded that delivery occurred in the transportation pipeline. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that delivery occurs in the gathering pipeline. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals correctly interpreted the deed in this case. View "Nettye Engler Energy, LP v. Bluestone Natural Resources II, LLC" on Justia Law
Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah, et al. v. Lawrence, et al.
At issue in this appeal was a contract dispute between Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation (the Tribe) and Lynn Becker, a non-Indian. The contract concerned Becker’s work marketing and developing the Tribe’s mineral resources on the Ute reservation. Becker sued the Tribe in Utah state court for allegedly breaching the contract by failing to pay him a percentage of certain revenue the Tribe received from its mineral holdings. Later, the Tribe filed this lawsuit, challenging the state court’s subject-matter jurisdiction under federal law. The district court denied the Tribe’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the state-court proceedings, and the Tribe appealed. After its review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding the Tribe was entitled to injunctive relief. The appellate court found the trial court’s factual findings established that Becker’s state-court claims arose on the reservation because no substantial part of the conduct supporting them occurred elsewhere. And because the claims arose on the reservation, the state court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction absent congressional authorization. Accordingly, under the particular circumstances of this appeal, the Tenth Circuit "close[d] this chapter in Becker’s dispute with the Tribe by ordering the district court to permanently enjoin the state-court proceedings." View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah, et al. v. Lawrence, et al." on Justia Law