Monday, June 24, 2013

Zupp v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., No. 3:CV-12-2333, 2013 WL 3103763 (June 18, 2013).

On June 18, 2013, the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania denied a landowners motion for reconsideration of a May decision that found a 2007 oil and gas lease was still in effect.

In the May decision, Zupp, Plaintiff, brought suit against Cabot, Defendant, seeking a declaration that an oil and gas lease was no longer in effect. The lease between the two parties stipulated an initial lease term of 5 years for Cabot to explore for oil and gas that was extended as long as oil or gas was produced in paying quantities. In dispute were “continuous operation” and “well shut-in” provisions that the Defendant relied on when extending its occupation of the Plaintiff’s land.

The continuous operations provision allowed for the lease to remain in effect so long as the well operator maintained certain operations stipulated in the lease. These included drilling, testing, completing, working, recompleting, deepening, plugging or repairing a well. In the event a well was drilled and shut-in (production of oil and gas is halted), the shut-in provision stated the lease remained in effect if the operator paid shut-in “royalties” to the landowner. The Plaintiff argued that the operator had not maintained continuous operations to extend the lease, and that the language of the lease prevented a shut in from maintaining the lease if it occurred beyond the primary term. The court disagreed with both of these arguments.

The court, in the May decision, granted the Defendant’s motion to dismiss because Cabot demonstrated that it maintained operations necessary to extend the lease. Further, it shut-in the well after the operations ceased, and paid the owner the necessary royalties to keep the lease in effect. The May court granted the Defendant’s motion to dismiss, but allowed the Plaintiff one opportunity to amend his complaint within 21 days.

In the June 18 decision, the court denied the Plaintiff’s motion to reconsider its May opinion. The court disagreed with the Plaintiff’s arguments that the court had failed to adequately consider the most significant parts of the lease and the legal arguments about those parts of the lease. The court stated that the motion raised by the Plaintiff disregarded sections of the May opinion that clearly examined the parts of the lease in question. Further, the court refused to give “legal conclusions” in the Plaintiff’s complaint the presumption of truth because legal conclusions are not the “well plead factual allegations” required to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Therefore, the motion to reconsider the May order was denied.

Written by: Garrett Lent, Research Assistant
Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center
June 2013

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