Justia Class Action Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
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In these consolidated cases, BP appealed three settlement awards, related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, that it paid to nonprofits through its Court-Supervised Settlement Program. On appeal, BP argued that the Claims Administrator improperly interpreted the Settlement Agreement. The awards were based on the Claims Administrator’s determination that nonprofits may count donations and grants as “revenue” under the terms of the Agreement (the Nonprofit-Revenue Interpretation). As a preliminary matter, the court concluded that it has jurisdiction over this appeal under the collateral order doctrine and that BP's appeals were timely. On the merits, the court concluded that BP failed to show that the Nonprofit-Revenue Interpretation violates the plain language of the Agreement. The court held that the Nonprofit-Revenue Interpretation does not alter the class definition in violation of Rule 23 or Article III. Finally, the court concluded that there was no abuse of discretion in the district court's denial of review of the individual awards. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "In Re: Deepwater Horizon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Denbury, alleging that Denbury breached its duty to act as a reasonable and prudent operator of the well that was drilled under oil, gas, and mineral leases. At issue on appeal was whether the district court erred in remanding the case on the basis that the local single event exclusion under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii), (ii)(I), applies to this case. The court concluded that the plain text of the exclusion supports plaintiffs' view that the terms "event" and "occurrence" are not generally understood to apply only to incidents that occur at a discrete moment in time. Moreover, this understanding is supported by legislative history and other case law interpreting the local single event exclusion. Therefore, the court held that, although the exclusion applied in cases in which the single event or occurrence happens at a discrete moment in time, the single event or occurrence may also be constituted by a pattern of conduct in which the pattern is consistent in leading to a single focused event that culminates in the basis of the asserted liability. Accordingly, the court held that the failure of the Well constituted the "event or occurrence" from which the claims of plaintiffs arose. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Rainbow Gun Club, Inc., et al. v. Denbury Onshore, L.L.C., et al." on Justia Law

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ComEd closed its Zion nuclear power plant in 1998. A decommissioned nuclear must be “decommissioned” and not be dangerously radioactive. Decommissioning is supervised by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which requires the operator to finance the decommissioning. The details of the trust fund are left to the state agency, in this case the Illinois Commerce Commission, which (220 ILCS 5/9‐201.5(a)), authorized ComEd to create a trust to be funded by $700 million in charges levied by ComEd on its customers. The Act entitles ComEd customers to the return of money not spent when the decommissioning is completed. In 2001, with the permission of the ICC, ComEd transferred ownership of the Zion plant and the trust assets, to ComEd’s parent, Exelon. Neither Exelon nor its subsidiary is a public utility. Ordinarily the utility (ComEd) would have owned the plant after shutting it down, but transaction costs would be reduced by uniting financing and decommissioning in the same company. After several transfers, plaintiffs brought suit, claiming that the trust funds are being misused in violation of the Illinois Public Utilities Act and common law of trusts. The district court, without deciding whether to certify a class, dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that that none of the plaintiffs are beneficiaries of the trust. View "Pennington v. ZionSolutions LLC" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform oil spill. On appeal, BP challenged the district court's decision upholding the Claims Administrator's interpretation of the settlement agreement between it and the class of parties injured in the oil spill and the district court's dismissal of its action for breach of contract against the Administrator and denial of its motion for a preliminary injunction. The court concluded that the balance of equities favored a tailored stay where those who experienced actual injury traceable to loss from the Deepwater Horizon accident continued to receive recovery but those who did not receive their payments until this case was fully heard and decided through the judicial process weighed in favor of BP. Accordingly, the court reversed the denial of the preliminary injunction and instructed the district court to expeditiously craft a narrowly-tailored injunction that allowed the time necessary for deliberate reconsideration of significant issues on remand. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of BP's suit against the Claim Administrator. View "In Re: Deepwater Horizon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against GenOn, on behalf of a putative class of at least 1,500 individuals who own or inhabit residential property within one mile of GenOn’s 570-megawatt coal-fired electrical generation facility in Springdale, Pennsylvania. The complaint asserted state tort law claims, based on ash and contaminants settling on plaintiffs’ property. The district court dismissed, finding that because the plant was subject to comprehensive regulation under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401, it owed no extra duty to the members of the class under state tort law. The Third Circuit reversed, holding that the plain language of the Clean Air Act and controlling Supreme Court precedent indicate that state common law actions are not preempted. View "Bell v. Cheswick Generating Station, Genon Power Midwest, L.P." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated landowners who used agents in an effort to lease oil and gas rights in Mercer County. When the transactions did not go as planned, plaintiffs sued an oil and gas company, Halcon, alleging breach of agreement and the duty of fair dealing. After Halcon claimed that the agents were “necessary parties,” plaintiffs decided to file direct claims against the agents, which destroyed diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiffs intended to pursue all of their claims in state court. Halcon argued that it did not oppose joining agents, agreed that the all claims would benefit from being heard in a single proceeding, but asserted that the case should proceed in federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(2), (d)(2)(A), (d)(5)(B), because discovery had begun and there were ongoing ADR activities. The district court dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiffs filed in state court, with some changes. Halcon then removed the state court action to the same federal district court, which again remanded, citing the “home state” exception to subject matter jurisdiction under CAFA. The Third Circuit affirmed, citing CAFA’s “local controversy” exception because the case relates to Pennsylvania owners and their land. View "Vodenichar v. Halcon Energy Props., Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant XTO Energy, Inc. appealed a district court's certification of a class of Kansas royalty owners who sought recovery for its alleged underpayment of royalties. Specifically, the class claimed XTO violated Kansas law by improperly deducting costs for placing gas into a "marketable condition." After careful consideration, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the class did not meet Rule 23(a)'s commonality, typicality and adequacy requirements or Rule 23(b)(3)'s predominance requirement. Furthermore, the Court found the class' argument in favor of certification through collateral or judicial estoppel unavailing. The class certification order was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Wallace B. Roderick Revocable Trust v. XTO Energy" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a putative class action brought against several oil and gas companies and several companies that provide labor for offshore oil and gas projects. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants maintained a hiring scheme to employ foreign workers on the Outer Continental Shelf in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961-1968, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), 43 U.S.C. 1331 et seq. The district court disposed of all plaintiffs' claims and then entered final judgment dismissing all claims. The court held that the Service Defendants did not violate RICO because the law that would make their conduct racketeering activity did not apply in the place where that conduct occurred, namely vessels floating on the waters of the Outer Continental Shelf. The court rejected plaintiffs' contention that the exemptions the Service Defendants possessed to the OCSLA manning requirements did not shield them from RICO liability because those exemptions were fraudulently obtained. The court also held that plaintiffs could not state a claim for a private right of action for damages under the OCSLA and the district court's dismissal was proper. The court further held that the district court did not err in disposing plaintiffs' OCSLA enforcement claim. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court was affirmed. View "Brown, et al. v. Offshore Specialty Fabricators, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2003, Plaintiffs filed a class action alleging that Defendant BP America Production Company (BP) improperly deducted postproduction costs from royalty payments due between January 1986 and December 1997. To toll the applicable six-year statute of limitations, Plaintiffs claimed that BP fraudulently concealed material facts which gave rise to their claims. The trial court certified the class, and the appellate court affirmed. BP then appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing: (1) proof of fraudulent concealment was inherently individualized, and not amenable to resolution on a class basis; and, (2) the class time period was overly broad and as a result, includes members who had no costs deducted under the "netback" methodology. BP thus argued that the trial court erred in certifying the class. Upon review, the Supreme Court disagreed with either of BP's arguments, and affirmed the trial court's certification of the class.

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The issue on appeal to the Supreme Court in this case pertained to the standards a trial court applies when it decides whether to certify a class pursuant to C.R.C.P. 23. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' rulings: that the trial court must apply a "preponderance of the evidence" standard to C.R.C.P. 23's requirements, that the trial court must resolve factual or legal disputes dispositive of class certification regardless of any overlap with the merits, and that the trial court must resolve expert disputes regardless of any overlap with the merits. The Court also concluded that the trial court rigorously analyzed the evidence in determining that Plaintiffs in this case established an identifiable class and satisfied C.R.C.P. 23(b)(3)'s "predominance" requirement.