Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court
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This case stemmed from a dispute over the proper calculation of royalty payments on state oil and gas leases. Over the years, the Legislature has enacted several versions of the statutory oil and gas lease, and Lessees have entered into “hundreds” of oil and gas leases with the State. Specifically, the New Mexico Legislature enacted statutory oil and gas leases in 1919, 1925, 1927, 1929, 1931, 1945, 1947 and 1984. This appeal concerned the royalty clauses contained in the 1931 and the 1947 statutory lease forms. Both the 1931 lease and 1947 lease specified that the payment of royalty was to be calculated as a percentage of the “net proceeds” resulting from the sale of gas. During 2005 and 2006 Commissioner audited ConocoPhillips Company and Burlington Resources Oil & Gas Company’s royalty payments. Following the Audit, Commissioner notified Lessees that they had been underpaying their royalty obligations and issued them assessments for the underpayment. The Commissioner claimed that pursuant to the terms of the statutory lease forms Lessees could not deduct the post-production costs necessary to prepare the gas for the commercial market when calculating their royalty payments. Commissioner claimed that the improper deductions for post-production costs resulted in ConocoPhillips underpaying royalties by approximately $18.9 million and Burlington underpaying by approximately $5.6 million. In response to Commissioner’s audit and assessments, Lessees filed a complaint in the district court seeking a declaration that Commissioner’s assessment of additional royalty constituted a deprivation of due process, an unconstitutional impairment of contract, and breach of contract. In addition, Lessees claimed that Commissioner had exceeded his constitutional and statutory powers by issuing the assessments and had effectively usurped legislative power by seeking royalty payments under calculation methods not approved by the Legislature. In response, Commissioner alleged a host of counterclaims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and breach of the implied covenant to market. This appeal pertained to three orders granting summary judgment on behalf of Lessees and a fourth order denying Commissioner’s motion for reconsideration of the district court’s previous dismissal of his counterclaim for breach of the implied covenant to market. In the first order, the district court granted Lessees’ motion for summary judgment. Upon review of the several orders and claims before the Supreme Court on appeal, the Court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment. View "ConocoPhillips Co. v. Lyons" on Justia Law

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This appeal concerned the construction of a single word, "sudden," within a pollution exclusion clause in a series of liability insurance policies barring coverage for certain damages unless the events causing those damages were "sudden and accidental" (an issue of first impression in New Mexico). Concluding that "sudden" lacks a single clear meaning, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' holding that the word unambiguously signifies "quick, abrupt, or a temporarily short period of time. . . .Under well-established principles of insurance law," the Court construed this ambiguity in favor of the insured, Petitioner United Nuclear Corporation, and interpreted the term "sudden" in the insurance policies at issue in this dispute to mean "unexpected." the case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "United Nuclear Corp. v. Allstate Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted certiorari to review a Memorandum Opinion of the Court of Appeals and to address four issues stemming from a lawsuit by LensCrafters to enforce a noncompete provision against optometrist Dennis Kehoe after a sublease contract between the two parties ended. After review of the "complex, convoluted, and contentious eleven-year dispute," the Supreme Court held that (1) the district court properly dismissed LensCrafters' breach of contract claim on summary judgment because LensCrafters terminated the parties' contract as a matter of law and, with it, the contract's noncompete provision; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Kehoe's request to supplement his pleadings shortly before trial; and (3) summary judgment dismissing Kehoe's malicious abuse of process and tortious interference with contract counterclaims was proper because Kehoe did not demonstrate genuine issues of material fact. Because we hold that the noncompete provision was not in effect during any relevant time, the Court did not address Kehoe's fourth issue, whether the provision would have been contrary to public policy. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Memorandum Opinion of the Court of Appeals in part and reversed in part.