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Plaintiffs Behind Forced Pooling Lawsuit Respond to Motion To Dismiss | News, Sports, Jobs

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                            CHARLESTON – Both sides in a lawsuit challenging West Virginia’s natural gas unitization-forced pooling law have weighed in with court filings.

Attorneys for Bethany residents Scott Sonda and Brian Corwin filed responses Wednesday to two motions to dismiss their case filed by the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Conservation Commission.

Sonda and Corwin filed an amended complaint in September in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia. U.S. District Judge John Bailey issued an order Sept. 9 granting a motion to dismiss an earlier lawsuit filed against Gov. Jim Justice, stating that the governor’s office was the wrong agency to be sued.

Sonda and Corwin filed a lawsuit against Senate Bill 694 in May. The bill, signed into law in March, deals with the property rights of surface owners and farmers as it relates to drilling for natural gas and horizontal wells.

The unitization law sets new application requirements for the combination of the tracts for oil and natural gas drilling by operators of horizontal well units. It requires horizontal well units consisting of two or more tracts to get agreements from the mineral rights owners for at least 75% of the net acreage when it comes to interest from the royalties collected. It also sets requirements for how non-consenting royalty holders get paid.

Sonda and Corwin claim the law violates their U.S. and state constitutional rights against taking their private property without just compensation and deprives them of their property without due process. They are seeking a preliminary injunction and are asking the court to also determine if the law violates antitrust laws.

In motions filed Nov. 2, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and the Oil and Natural Gas Conservation Commission asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. Andrew Robey, an attorney with the Hissam Forman Donovan Ritchie law firm representing Morrisey, argued the Attorney General has 11th Amendment immunity which limits the kinds of suits that can be filed in federal court against state officials. Robey also argued that the Attorney General has no role in the enforcement of SB 694.

“The ex parte Young exception does not apply because the Attorney General is not tasked with enforcing the various sections of the challenged law,” Robey wrote. “The Attorney General is likewise not charged with a general duty to faithfully execute or enforce the laws of West Virginia. Consequently, the Attorney General plays no direct role in the enforcement of the Act.”

J. Anthony Edmond Jr., an attorney for Sonda and Corwin, responded that naming the Attorney General early would save time should the Attorney General decide to intervene in the case at a later date.

“…Naming the state Attorney General in the matter avoids undue delay by eliminating the waiting period of 60 days the state Attorney General is provided to decide whether to intervene in a matter,” Edmond wrote.

Robey, also representing the Oil and Natural Gas Conservation Commission, argued that neither Sonda nor Corwin have been harmed by the new law, pointing out that the U.S. District Court also dismissed the case because Sonda and Corwin could show no cause of harm.

“…Plaintiffs fail to explain how, if at all, they have been concretely harmed by SB 694,” Robey wrote. “For example, plaintiffs do not plausibly allege that the commission has unitized their mineral tracts under SB 694, much less that anyone has applied to unitize their mineral tracts under the new statutory scheme. Indeed, plaintiffs appear to be totally unaffected by SB 694’s implementation.”

In his response, Edmond believes SB 694 would still have an effect on units owned by Sonda and Corwin.

“At this stage, SB 694 has gone into effect, which limits plaintiffs’ recourse in matters regarding payment for oil and gas interest, causing their payments for oil and gas to be artificially diluted without proper recourse as the former law allowed, causing direct harm to plaintiffs…,” Edmond wrote.

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Read More: Plaintiffs Behind Forced Pooling Lawsuit Respond to Motion To Dismiss | News, Sports, Jobs

2022-11-17 23:34:12

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