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Johnson v. Chesapeake Louisiana, LP

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

March 21, 2019

ALLEN JOHNSON, ET AL.
v.
CHESAPEAKE LOUISIANA, LP

          HORNSBY MAGISTRATE, JUDGE

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          S. MAURICE HICKS, JR., CHIEF JUDGE

         Before the Court are two Motions for Partial Summary Judgment. See Record Document 24 & 28. The first is a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Record Document 24) filed by Defendants, Chesapeake Louisiana, L.P. and Chesapeake Operating, L.L.C. (collectively “the Chesapeake Defendants”). The second is Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Record Document 28) filed by Plaintiffs Allen Johnson, Linda Johnson, Donald A. Crosslin, Jr., Mary Jo Gragg, Rodney M. Hudson, Clifton Layman, Alfred R. Meshell, Sherman R. Meshell, David E. Oliver, Tracy Oliver, Laura S. Pendleton, Andrew L. Piccolo, Karla S. Piccolo, Randall S. Rodgers, Freddie P. Spohrer, Tim G. Taylor, Charles R. Waldon, Rexford Galen White, James Shope, Donna Shope, Charlotte McCune, and Jerry McCune. The motions are fully briefed and the Court heard oral arguments on the cross-motions. The sole legal issue to be decided in the cross-motions is whether Plaintiffs, twenty-two unleased mineral owners (the “UMO Plaintiffs”), are responsible for a proportionate share of post-production costs.[1] For the reasons set forth below, this Court holds that under Louisiana Revised Statute 30:10(A)(3), post-production costs cannot be recovered by an operator from an unleased mineral owner's share of production proceeds. Thus, the UMO Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Record Document 28) is GRANTED and the Chesapeake Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Record Document 24) is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         The Chesapeake Defendants were at all times relevant the operator of the Kelley Well, which is the unit well of the HA RA SU86 unit (“the Unit”). The UMO Plaintiffs are landowners within the Unit and own a non-operating, unleased interest in the Unit. In their Petition, the UMO Plaintiffs allege, among other claims, that the Chesapeake Defendants improperly deducted certain post-production costs from the UMO Plaintiffs' share of production proceeds. In particular, Plaintiffs contend that Chesapeake has violated Louisiana law by charging or netting-out post-production costs from Plaintiffs' share of production secured from the Kelley Well. These post-production costs generally include gathering, compression, treatment, processing, transportation, and dehydration costs.

         The Chesapeake Defendants moved for partial summary judgment, alleging that their deductions for post-production costs are authorized under general principles of unjust enrichment and, alternatively, co-ownership. See Record Document 24. The Chesapeake Defendants contend that La R.S. 30:10 is inapplicable to the instant matter, as such statute is limited to development and operation costs and does not address post-production costs. The UMO Plaintiffs opposed the motion and filed their own cross-motion, arguing that general principles of co-ownership and unjust enrichment cannot supersede the positive statutory law governing their payment rights. See Record Document 28. They contend that the statutory scheme set forth in La. R.S. 30:10 as a whole governs and that post-production costs are not among the exclusive list of expenses deductible against unleased owners, as set forth in Section 10(A)(3).

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Partial Summary Judgment Standard.

Rule 56(a) provides, in pertinent part:
Motion for Summary Judgment or Partial Summary Judgment. A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

F.R.C.P. 56(a) (emphasis added); see also Quality Infusion Care, Inc. v. Health Care Serv. Corp., 628 F.3d 725, 728 (5th Cir.2010).[2] “A genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Quality Infusion Care, Inc., 628 F.3d at 728. “Rule 56[(a)] mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Patrick v. Ridge, 394 F.3d 311, 315 (5th Cir.2004).

         If the movant demonstrates the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, “the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Gen. Universal Sys., Inc. v. Lee, 379 F.3d 131, 141 (5th Cir.2004). Where critical evidence is so weak or tenuous on an essential fact that it could not support a judgment in favor of the nonmovant, then summary judgment should be granted. See Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir.2005).

         “A partial summary judgment order is not a final judgment but is merely a pre-trial adjudication that certain issues are established for trial of the case.” Streber v. Hunter, 221 F.3d 701, 737 (5th Cir.2000). Partial summary judgment serves the purpose of rooting out, narrowing, and focusing the issues for trial. See Calpetco 1981 v. Marshall Exploration, Inc., 989 F.2d 1408, 1415 (5th Cir.1993).

         B. ...


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