On June 30, 2015, the Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma held that private tort actions against oil and gas companies are to be decided before the state district courts, and not before the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC). The OCC has exclusive jurisdiction over oil and gas matters but, as the Supreme Court indicated, it is a limited jurisdiction in dealing with disputes over public rights. In this case, there were no public rights at issue. The Supreme Court concluded that the decision is consistent with the “long-held rule that district courts have exclusive jurisdiction over private tort actions when regulated oil and gas operations are at issue.”
On August 4, 2014, Mrs. Sandra Ladra, an Oklahoma resident, filed a lawsuit before the Lincoln County district court against two oil and gas companies for recovery of damages. She alleged that their wastewater injection well activities triggered three earthquakes of great magnitude in November 2011. She claimed that she was significantly injured as a result of one of these earthquakes.
The District Court of Lincoln County dismissed her complaint contending that only the OCC had jurisdiction to hear the case. The case was assigned to the Oklahoma Supreme Court on December 10, 2014. It has now been remanded back to the district court. One of the issues for resolution before the district court is whether the companies’ actions will be evaluated using a strict liability standard.
Written by Chloe Marie - Research Fellow