On June 3, 2013, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled on a gas well operator’s motion to dismiss a landowner’s claims of trespass and conversion/misappropriation by the company. Defendant operator Chesapeake and Plaintiff landowner Valley Rod & Gun Club executed a lease that contained provisions allowing Defendant access to the Plaintiff’s property, granting a right of entry, permission to construct a well pad, the privilege to install and use roads, and utilize oil, gas and non-domestic water for the storage of gas. Defendant and Plaintiff, disagreed on the location of the well, and Defendant chose a location against the owner’s requests that damaged the Plaintiff’s surface property. Defendant, via its sub-contractor, utilized stone, fill, rock, trees and mulch on the Club’s property to construct the access roads to the pad, without permission of the owner. The court dismissed the trespass claim because the lease granted Defendant a right of entry to the Plaintiff’s land, an absolute defense to trespass. The court explained that the lease provisions privileged the Defendant to install and use roads on the surface estate, and lacked provisions that restricted access where the Defendant’s otherwise had a right to be. The court, however, denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss the conversion and misappropriation claim. The court explained the Plaintiff plead facts sufficient to demonstrate that the stone, fill, rock, trees and mulch were not utilized by Defendant in sitework incidental to the extraction of oil and gas, but rather in the construction of access roads.
Written by: Garrett Lent, Research Assistant
Penn State Law, Agricultural Law Center