Mixed Result In A Louisiana Legacy Pollution Case

The Dietz family sued several lessees for injunctive relief and restorative damages arising out of leases on two non-contiguous tracts in Acadia Parish. In Dietz, et al. v. Superior Oil Company, et al  the trial court granted the lessees’ dilatory exceptions of prematurity and improper cumulation and dismissed the plaintiff’s suit without prejudice.

The family asserted that the lessees improperly used and abandoned oil field waste storage pits and exploration and production equipment, causing contamination of the soil and groundwater. The defendants filed the exceptions to avoid the suit.

Prematurity 

The defendants’ dilatory exception of prematurity asserted that they were not given notice prior to the suit as required by Mineral Code Article 136 and that the claims were premature, as the lease was still in effect.

The trial court’s grant of the prematurity exception was because the defendants had not been given written notice as required by Article 136. The appellate court found that the trial court erred in granting the prematurity exception. Claims for restoration of contamination are not governed by Mineral Code Article 136 and do not require advanced written notice as these claims “are separate and distinct from any claims that defendants failed to develop and operate the property”.

A suit for contamination of soil and groundwater may be brought before the lease expires. The lessee has obligations set out in the Mineral Code and in Civil Code Articles 2683, 2686, 2687 and 2692. Civil Code Article 2683 specifically defines the Lessee’s obligations. While Article 2683 has obligations which arise at the end of the lease, there is “absolutely no language to suggest that the other obligations imposed by these codal provisions are not operational until termination of the lease.”

Improper Cumulation

The trial court’s grant of the exception of improper cumulation was because there was a lack of community of interest between the joined parties. These exceptions were affirmed. In order to determine if there is a community of interest between the parties, the courts will look to see if the causes of action arise from the same facts and present the same legal and factual issues. Is there an overlap “present between the cases to make it commonsensical to litigate them together”? Proof of damages and liability would be different for each party. There were numerous defendants and non-contiguous lands, with each defendant having different lease obligations with different facts being proven for each operator. Therefore, there would be a lack of overlap required for a proper cumulation. The court affirmed dismissal of the suit without prejudice.

Driven to know the elements of improper cumulation? See Code of Civil Procedure Article 463.

Takeaways

I see two: 

The plaintiff-landowners lost this round but lived to fight another day.

The is no end soon to pollution claims against legacy producers in Louisiana oil fields.

In a case from Acadia Parish, how can we not pay musical tribute to J. D. Miller’s recording studio in Crowley.  Here is an example

Topics:  Contaminated Properties, Groundwater, Oil & Gas, Premature Claims, Ripeness, Waste Disposal

Published In: Civil Procedure Updates, Civil Remedies Updates, Energy & Utilities Updates, Environmental Updates, Commercial Real Estate Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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