Equinor USA Onshore Props. Inc. v. Pine Res., LLC, No. 18-1291

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtGREGORY, Chief Judge
Citation917 F.3d 807
Docket NumberNo. 18-1291
Decision Date06 March 2019
Parties EQUINOR USA ONSHORE PROPERTIES INC., f/k/a Statoil USA Onshore Properties, Inc., Plaintiff – Appellee, v. PINE RESOURCES, LLC, Defendant – Appellant.

917 F.3d 807

EQUINOR USA ONSHORE PROPERTIES INC., f/k/a Statoil USA Onshore Properties, Inc., Plaintiff – Appellee,
v.
PINE RESOURCES, LLC, Defendant – Appellant.

No. 18-1291

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

Argued: December 11, 2018
Decided: March 6, 2019


ARGUED: David Allen Barnette, JACKSON KELLY, PLLC, Charleston, West Virginia, for Appellant. Fields Alexander, BECK REDDEN LLP, Houston, Texas, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Michael M. Fisher, Vivian Hatzi Basdekis, JACKSON KELLY, PLLC, Charleston, West Virginia, for Appellant. Joel T. Towner, BECK REDDEN LLP, Houston, Texas; Bridget Furbee, Bridgeport, West Virginia, John J. Meadows, STEPTOE & JOHNSON PLLC, Charleston, West Virginia, for Appellee.

Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, MOTZ, and FLOYD, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed by published opinion. Chief Judge Gregory authored the opinion, in which Judge Motz and Judge Floyd joined.

GREGORY, Chief Judge:

917 F.3d 810

This appeal concerns a contractual obligation to "spud" three wells on a tract of land in West Virginia. The parties dispute whether the obligation to "spud" the wells is an obligation only to begin drilling or to complete the wells to the point of mineral production. Following a bench trial, the district court determined that the Purchase and Sale Agreement ("PSA") executed between Petitioner Pine Resources, LLC and the predecessor of Respondent Equinor USA Onshore Properties, Inc. f/k/a Statoil USA Onshore Properties, Inc. contains no requirement that the spudded wells be completed to production. We agree with the district court that the PSA does not require hydrocarbon production. We therefore affirm.

I.

A.

Pine Resources sold its Marcellus mineral rights in 565 acres of land in Barbour County, West Virginia (the "Langley tract") to PetroEdge Energy LLC, a non-party, pursuant to a November 7, 2008 PSA.1 In addition to documenting the terms of the mineral rights sale, the PSA set forth certain drilling obligations on the Langley tract. Specifically, PetroEdge agreed to apply for a meter tap on a gas transmission line on or before 60 days after executing the PSA, i.e. December 7, 2008. Following installation of that meter tap, the PSA provided for the "spudding" of three wells: the first was to be spudded within one year of the meter tap’s installation, and a total of three wells were to be spudded within five years of the meter tap’s installation. The PSA permitted PetroEdge to satisfy the spudding obligations by spudding horizontal wells with openings that were off the Langley tract so long as any portion of the well traversed the Langley tract. Pursuant to the PSA, Pine Resources retained an overriding royalty interest ("ORRI") of 18% of the hydrocarbons "produced from or attributable to" the mineral rights that were sold to PetroEdge. J.A. 1734.

The PSA contained other provisions related to the parties’ drilling and surface operations. The parties agreed to meet on a quarterly basis to consult regarding each other’s drilling plans and to use reasonable efforts to cooperate with each other in their surface operations. The PSA also established procedures to be used if a party chose to abandon a "producing well" that ceased to produce hydrocarbons. Id.

A year and a half after the PSA was executed, concern grew that PetroEdge would be unable to meet the deadline for

917 F.3d 811

the spudding of the first well due to a delay in installation of the meter tap. PetroEdge had been able to secure only one of two rigs that it needed to drill the first well, which was to be a horizontal well with a surface opening outside of the Langley tract. The second rig was necessary to drill the horizontal portion of the well, which would eventually penetrate the Langley tract. The parties agreed to extend the deadline for spudding of the first well to December 31, 2011 in exchange for $100,000 in consideration paid to Pine Resources. The parties also agreed that the meter tap installation date would be set at April 1, 2009, regardless of the actual installation date, and that the deadline for spudding of the second and third wells would be April 1, 2014. After a second delay, the parties agreed to amend the PSA a second time to allow PetroEdge until March 31, 2012 to satisfy its contractual obligations in connection with the first well. No additional consideration was paid.

PetroEdge began drilling the first well, known as Bumgardner 5-2H, in December 2011. The well was drilled to 6,134 feet and penetrated the Langley tract in March 2012. It was never completed, however, and has never produced hydrocarbons.

After drilling the first well, the parties continued to meet on a quarterly basis until September 2012, when PetroEdge missed the quarterly meeting. In late 2012, PetroEdge’s CEO Larry Richard notified Pine Resources that PetroEdge had sold its mineral interests to Statoil. The PetroEdge-Statoil purchase agreement provided that Statoil would assume responsibility for the "performance of all express and implied obligations" arising from "instruments in the chain of title to the Assets, the Leases, the Contracts and all other orders, contracts and agreements to which the Assets are subject, including the payment of royalties and overriding royalties." J.A. 2440. Schedule 3.25 of that contract listed the Pine Resources-PetroEdge PSA as one of these contracts and indicated: "The first drilling obligation satisfied by drilling the Bumgardner #5-2H Well. Must drill at least two (2) additional wells, vertical or horizontal, on or before April 1, 2014 (may be negotiable)." J.A. 1856.

After Pine Resources learned of Statoil’s purchase of PetroEdge’s mineral rights, Pine Resources’s principals made several attempts to contact Statoil to schedule quarterly meetings. They initially received no formal response. Months later, on July 11, 2013, Statoil and Pine Resources met. During that meeting, Statoil’s Joshua Ozment informed Pine Resources that a second well had been permitted on the same pad as the first well and that Ozment assumed that his company would drill that well.

Also on July 11, 2013, Pine Resources notified Statoil in writing of what Pine Resources considered to be three ongoing violations of the PSA. First, Pine Resources stated that Statoil had failed to meet its quarterly meeting obligation. Second, Pine Resources considered Statoil’s failure to "complete[ ] and turn[ ] into production" the first well a breach of the PSA. J.A. 1823. And third, Pine Resources noted the remaining drilling obligations and requested an update of Statoil’s plans to satisfy those obligations. Statoil did not respond to that correspondence, but the company’s vice president of business development forwarded Pine Resource’s letter internally, stating, "Sounds like we are in some trouble, but maybe you guys get a lot of these." J.A. 1857.

Pine Resources followed up its July 11, 2013 letter with additional emails and phone calls in an attempt to ascertain Statoil’s plans to satisfy its obligations under the PSA. In December 2013, Statoil informed Pine Resources that it would not complete the first well or drill the second

917 F.3d 812

or third wells and asked that Pine Resources explain its demands in writing. Pine Resources sent a demand letter to Statoil, stating "[t]here was an immediate requirement to contract with a pipeline for service and a requirement to drill three wells." J.A. 1826. A month later, Statoil responded that it was "not obligated to complete the [first well] until the Langley Meter Tap is installed." J.A. 1900. Because the meter tap had not yet been installed, the obligation to spud the second and third wells, according to Statoil, had not yet been triggered.

Pine Resources responded with several additional emails and other communications to Statoil, explaining among other things that Pine Resources had agreed with PetroEdge that the meter tap installation date would be April 1, 2009. Pine Resources’s correspondence initially went unanswered. When Statoil finally did respond, its position was: "If you sue us, we’ll bankrupt you." J.A. 1547.

Statoil took no steps to complete the Bumgardner 5-2H Well or to begin drilling the second or third wells on the Langley tract. Statoil sold its interest in the Marcellus mineral rights in 2015.

B.

On July 8, 2014, Statoil brought suit against Pine Resources in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. The complaint sought a judgment declaring that Statoil owed no obligations to Pine Resources under the PSA beyond making royalty payments. Pine Resources filed a counterclaim, asserting breach of Section 5.7(b) of the PSA—the section setting forth the spudding obligations.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment to Statoil and denied Pine Resources’s motion for summary judgment on its counterclaim. In doing so, the district court found that, under the unambiguous language of the PSA, the spudding obligations extended only to the "Purchaser," which the court read to mean PetroEdge alone.

Pine Resources appealed, and we reversed in an unpublished per curiam opinion. Statoil USA Onshore Props. Inc. v. Pine Resources, LLC , 675 F. App'x 285 (4th Cir. 2017). We...

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18 practice notes
  • Steves & Sons, Inc. v. Jeld-Wen, Inc., No. 19-1397
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • February 18, 2021
    ...compete effectively. As this is a factual finding, we review it for clear error. See Equinor USA Onshore Props. Inc. v. Pine Res., LLC , 917 F.3d 807, 813 (4th Cir. 2019).We conclude that the district court's finding wasn't clear error because substantial evidence supports it. Specifically,......
  • Robinson v. U.S. Dep't of Educ., No. 18-1822
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • March 6, 2019
    ...in the view of Meyers , would be "shoehorning" a tribal immunity waiver where it failed utterly to fit. Id. at 827. "But when it comes to 917 F.3d 807sovereign immunity, shoehorning is precisely what we cannot do." Id. As the Ninth Circuit recognized in Daniel , the Seventh Circuit’s logic ......
  • Garber v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 5:21-cv-00546-HNJ
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • December 7, 2021
    ...scarcely be said to be designed to ascertain the intent of the parties.”); see also Equinor USA Onshore Properties Inc. v. Pine Res., LLC, 917 F.3d 807, 818 n.4 (4th Cir. 2019) (“While ambiguous contracts are generally construed against their drafter, [t]he general rule of construing an amb......
  • Foodbuy, LLC v. Gregory Packaging, Inc., No. 19-1613
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • February 1, 2021
    ...will not "substitute our version of the facts for that found by the district court." Equinor USA Onshore Props. Inc. v. Pine Res., LLC , 917 F.3d 807, 813 (4th Cir. 2019). So long as the " ‘court's account of the evidence is plausible in light of the record viewed in its entirety, [we] may ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
18 cases
  • Steves & Sons, Inc. v. Jeld-Wen, Inc., No. 19-1397
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • February 18, 2021
    ...compete effectively. As this is a factual finding, we review it for clear error. See Equinor USA Onshore Props. Inc. v. Pine Res., LLC , 917 F.3d 807, 813 (4th Cir. 2019).We conclude that the district court's finding wasn't clear error because substantial evidence supports it. Specifically,......
  • Robinson v. U.S. Dep't of Educ., No. 18-1822
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • March 6, 2019
    ...in the view of Meyers , would be "shoehorning" a tribal immunity waiver where it failed utterly to fit. Id. at 827. "But when it comes to 917 F.3d 807sovereign immunity, shoehorning is precisely what we cannot do." Id. As the Ninth Circuit recognized in Daniel , the Seventh Circuit’s logic ......
  • Garber v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 5:21-cv-00546-HNJ
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • December 7, 2021
    ...scarcely be said to be designed to ascertain the intent of the parties.”); see also Equinor USA Onshore Properties Inc. v. Pine Res., LLC, 917 F.3d 807, 818 n.4 (4th Cir. 2019) (“While ambiguous contracts are generally construed against their drafter, [t]he general rule of construing an amb......
  • Foodbuy, LLC v. Gregory Packaging, Inc., No. 19-1613
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • February 1, 2021
    ...will not "substitute our version of the facts for that found by the district court." Equinor USA Onshore Props. Inc. v. Pine Res., LLC , 917 F.3d 807, 813 (4th Cir. 2019). So long as the " ‘court's account of the evidence is plausible in light of the record viewed in its entirety, [we] may ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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