Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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Defendant Texas Brine Company, LLC (Texas Brine) operated brine wells on land owned by Co-Defendant Occidental Chemical Corporation (Oxy) in Louisiana. In August 2012, a sinkhole appeared near one of these wells. After the sinkhole appeared, Texas Brine began clean-up efforts. In December 2012, Texas Brine retained Frontier International Group, LLC (Frontier), an Oklahoma-based consulting firm, for “emergency management, state and local government relations, community relations, litigation settlement strategy, and media communications.” Some time later, Texas Brine retained Brooks Altshuler, an attorney and Frontier’s owner, in his individual capacity to advise the company on response and remediation efforts and to negotiate with government agencies. Later, Texas Brine retained Frontier as a consulting expert for trial preparation. Litigation began soon after the sinkhole appeared, with multiple plaintiffs suing Texas Brine and Oxy in the Eastern District of Louisiana. To verify the work Frontier performed and the cost of such work, Oxy issued a subpoena duces tecum to nonparty Frontier, requesting production of eight categories of documents related to services Frontier provided Texas Brine. In response, Texas Brine filed a motion to quash the subpoena in the Western District of Oklahoma, the district where compliance was required. Proceeding under the uncontested assumption that Louisiana law applied, Texas Brine first claimed the attorney-client privilege protected the subpoenaed communications. In a written order, the trial court noted that Texas Brine failed to comply with Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(e)(2)(A), instead, relying on a “blanket claim of privilege.” In the context of Texas Brine’s claim of a blanket privilege did the court address whether Louisiana’s attorney-client privilege statute extended the privilege to a public relations firm and its agents. Without a privilege log before it, the court concluded that much of the work Frontier performed for Texas Brine did not constitute “legal advice” and, thus, was not protected by the attorney-client privilege. The court ultimately required Texas Brine to produce a privilege log for any communications that it believed were protected. Texas Brine appealed. Frontier complied with the district court’s order and has, at this point, produced around 20,000 documents and a privilege log regarding the confidentiality of the withheld documents. The Tenth Circuit determined that the trial court’s factual record was insufficient, and the court did not require the production of protected documents, Texas Brine’s appeal was not ripe for review. Accordingly, Frontier and Texas Brine’s appeals were dismissed for want of jurisdiction and lack of ripeness respectively. View "Texas Brine Co. v. Occidental Chem. Corp." on Justia Law

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This case involved an implied covenant to market gas. Energen owned and operated oil and gas wells in the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Its wells were subject to leases and other agreements (many of which were quite old) requiring it to pay a monthly royalty or overriding royalty on production to the Anderson Living Trust, the Pritchett Living Trust, the Neely-Robertson Revocable Family Trust (N-R Trust), and the Tatum Living Trust. Believing Energen was systematically underpaying royalties, the Trusts filed a putative class action complaint against it. The New Mexico Trusts claimed Energen was improperly deducting from their royalties their proportionate share of (1) the costs it incurs to place the gas produced from the wells in a marketable condition (postproduction costs) and (2) a privilege tax the State of New Mexico imposes on natural gas processors (the natural gas processors tax). They also alleged Energen had not timely paid royalties or interest thereon, as required by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Proceeds Payments Act. Both the New Mexico Trusts and the Tatum Trust further claimed Energen was wrongfully failing to pay royalty on the gas it used as fuel. The district judge dismissed the New Mexico Trusts’ marketable condition rule claim for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and entered summary judgment in favor of Energen on the remaining claims. All of the Trusts appealed those judgments. For the most part, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court. The Tenth Circuit’s analysis differed from that of the district court relating to: (1) the fuel gas claims made by the N-R Trust and Tatum Trust; and (2) the New Mexico Trusts’ claim under the New Mexico Oil and Gas Proceeds Payments Act. As to the former, the N-R Trust’s overriding royalty agreement required royalty to be paid on all gas produced, including that gas used as fuel. And the Tatum Trust’s leases explicitly prohibited Energen from deducting post-production costs (Energen treats its use of the fuel gas as an in-kind postproduction cost). Moreover, the “free use” clauses and royalty provisions in the Tatum Trust’s leases limited the free use of gas to that occurring on the leased premises. Because use of the fuel gas occurred off the leased premises, Energen owed royalty on that gas. With regard to the latter, the district court was right in permitting Energen to hold funds owed to the N-R Trust in a suspense account until a title issue concerning a well was resolved in favor of that Trust. However, the district court did not address whether the N-R Trust was entitled to statutory interest on those funds. It was so entitled, yet the current record (at least in the Tenth Circuit’s analysis) did not show interest to have been paid on the funds. View "Anderson Living Trust v. Energen Resources" on Justia Law

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Richard Turley appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the United States, acting on behalf of the United States Postal Service, awarding specific performance of an option to purchase real estate from Turley. The purchase option was contained in a lease of the premises that the Postal Service had renewed on several occasions. Turley argued on appeal: (1) the lease had expired when the Postal Service attempted to exercise the purchase option because he had not received notice that the government was exercising its final option to renew the lease; (2) even if the lease was renewed, the Postal Service did not properly exercise the purchase option because it continued to negotiate for a new lease after it purported to exercise the option; and (3) equity precluded enforcement of the purchase option because the Postal Service attempted to use the purchase option as leverage to negotiate a better lease agreement. The Tenth Circuit was not persuaded. The Court found the lease-renewal option was properly exercised when the notice was delivered to the proper address, even though Turley refused to retrieve it. And Turley has presented no legal or equitable doctrine that would forbid a party who exercises (and is bound by) an option to purchase from pursuing an alternative arrangement. View "United States v. Turley" on Justia Law

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In 2015, Wichita and affiliated tribes made plans to build a History Center on a plot of land held by the federal government in trust for the Wichita Tribe, Delaware Nation, and Caddo Nation jointly. One of those neighbors, the Caddo Nation, claimed the land may contain remains of ancestral relatives. Before the Wichita Tribe began construction, Caddo Nation sued the Wichita Tribe for allegedly violating the procedures required by the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) throughout the planning process. Caddo Nation sought an emergency temporary restraining order preventing Wichita Tribe from continuing construction until it complied with those procedures. When the district court denied that request, Caddo Nation appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals without seeking further preliminary relief. In the intervening year while the case was on appeal with the Tenth Circuit, Wichita Tribe completed construction of the History Center. The Tenth Circuit concluded it had no jurisdiction over this appeal because the relief Caddo Nation requested from the district court was moot. View "Caddo Nation of Oklahoma v. Wichita & Affiliated Tribes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellee Western Energy Alliance (“WEA”) filed this lawsuit against two Defendants: the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, and the Bureau of Land Management (the “BLM”). WEA alleged that the BLM violated the Mineral Leasing Act, 30 U.S.C. secs. 181-287 (the “MLA”), by holding too few oil and gas lease sales. Several environmental advocacy groups moved to intervene in the suit: The Wilderness Society, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Southern Utah Wilderness Society, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Great Old Broads For Wilderness, Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, Center For Biological Diversity, and Earthworks (collectively, the “conservation groups”). The district court denied the motion to intervene. The court concluded that the conservation groups had failed to show that the pending litigation has the potential to harm their environmental interests, or that the presently named parties could not adequately represent their interests. The conservation groups filed this interlocutory appeal over the denial of their motion to intervene. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the conservation groups could intervene in the lawsuit as a matter of right, and reversed the district court’s previous denial. View "Western Energy Alliance v. Zinke" on Justia Law

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In cases consolidated for review, the issue presented for the Tenth Circuit centered on whether the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acted beyond its statutory authority when it promulgated a regulation, 43 C.F.R. sec. 3162.3-3 (2015), governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on lands owned or held in trust by the United States. The district court invalidated this regulation as exceeding the BLM’s statutory authority. While these appeals were pending, a new President of the United States was elected, and shortly thereafter, at the President’s direction, the BLM began the process of rescinding the Fracking Regulation. Given these changed and changing circumstances, the Tenth Circuit concluded these appeals were unripe for review. As a result, the Court dismissed these appeals and remanded with directions to vacate the district court’s opinion and dismiss the action without prejudice. View "Wyoming v. Zinke" on Justia Law

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Northern Natural Gas Company initiated proceedings against a number of parties to condemn certain rights relating to the storage of natural gas in and under more than 9,000 acres of land in southeast Kansas, known as the Cunningham Storage Field. Northern Natural Gas brought this action under the Natural Gas Act of 1938 (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717 et seq. A three-person commission was appointed to determine the appropriate condemnation award, and the district court adopted the commission’s findings and recommendations in full. Both sides appealed, asserting various arguments in support of their positions that the award either over- or under-compensated the Landowners and Producers. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded: the condemnation award should not have included either (1) the value of storage gas in and under the Cunningham Field on the date of taking, or (2) the lost value of producing such gas after the date of certification, because certification extinguished any property interests the Landowners and Producers may have held in the gas before that date. But the Court agreed with the award’s inclusion of value for Extension Area tracts based on their potential use for gas storage and buffer rights, the commission’s valuation for the eight Extension Area wells, and the district court’s denial of attorneys’ fees. View "Northern Natural Gas v. Approximately 9117 Acres" on Justia Law

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The district court did not err in holding that plaintiffs Stanley and Zinaida Pohl were precluded from asserting a claim to rescind the foreclosure sale of their home, based on their lender’s alleged violations of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). In May 2007 the Pohls refinanced the loan on their Denver home, securing the loan with a deed of trust. In 2008 they ran into financial difficulties, however, and in 2009 they went into default on the loan. In March 2010, believing that their lender had failed to make TILA-required disclosures, the Pohls delivered a notice of intent to rescind the loan. The lender responded that it would “exercise all appropriate remedies under the promissory note and security instrument in the event of the Borrower’s default.” In June 2011 the deed of trust was assigned to U.S. Bank, as trustee for a certain mortgage loan trust, and in July 2011 U.S. Bank commenced foreclosure proceedings. The Pohls promptly filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In November 2011 the bankruptcy court granted U.S. Bank’s motion to lift the automatic stay as to the property so it could continue the foreclosure proceedings. It also granted the Pohls a discharge. In August 2012 the Pohls and a third party filed in Colorado state court a “Complaint to Quiet Title" alleging they had tendered a valid instrument in payment of the note, which U.S. Bank had rejected. U.S. Bank moved for dismissal of that action for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The state district court granted the motion and dismissed the action. The Pohls’ bankruptcy case was closed in December 2012. The property was sold in a foreclosure sale in January 2013, with U.S. Bank the highest bidder. The Pohls then filed suit that came before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, still seeking to rescind the 2013 foreclosure in light of the 2010 notice of their intent to rescind to loan. The Pohls' motion was denied, with the district court finding the Pohls' claims were precluded because they could have used the state litigation to challenge the lender's failure to follow the TILA recission process. The Tenth Circuit found no error in that judgment, and affirmed. View "Pohl v. US Bank" on Justia Law

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Unable to win the consent of all necessary landowners, a public utility company contended it had a statutory right to condemn a right-of-way on two parcels of land in New Mexico. Because federal law did not permit condemnation of tribal land, the Navajo Nation’s ownership of undivided fractional interests in the parcels presented a problem for the company. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the condemnation action against the two land parcels in which the Navajo Nation held an interest. View "Public Service Company of NM v. Barboan" on Justia Law

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This case involved a dispute over the ownership of mineral rights appurtenant to several tracts of land located in Haskell County, Kansas. Michael Leathers and his brother Ronald Leathers each inherited half of these mineral rights from their mother. But an error in a quit claim deed subsequently executed between the brothers left it unclear whether Ronald’s one-half interest in the mineral estate had been conveyed to Michael. In a series of orders spanning several years, the district court (1) reformed the quit claim deed to reflect that Ronald had reserved his one-half interest in the mineral estate; (2) awarded half of Ronald’s one-half interest to Ronald’s wife Theresa (pursuant to Ronald and Theresa’s divorce decree); and (3) held that Ronald owed approximately $1.5 million to the IRS and that the IRS’s tax liens had first priority to any present and future royalties due to Ronald from his remaining one-quarter mineral interest. Ronald appealed, but finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment with respect to the reformation and the interests, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court on all grounds. View "Leathers v. Leathers" on Justia Law