The Colorado Supreme Court issued a sweeping ruling that will limit, if not eliminate, Lone Pine-style case management orders in Colorado toxic tort cases. See Antero Resources v. Strudley, 2015 BL 111122 (Colo. Apr. 20, 2015).
Plaintiff landowners lived near Defendants’ natural gas drilling operations. Plaintiffs allege those operations contaminated their property with various substances, causing a bevy of physical ailments and forcing Plaintiffs to move from the property.
The Defendant drilling company and contractors moved for, and the trial court granted, a “modified case management order” similar to the order entered in the Lone Pine toxic tort case. See id. at 7. The order required Plaintiffs to make a prima facie showing of each Plaintiff’s injuries, as well as the causal connection between those injuries and the drilling operations, and a quantification of the alleged contamination of Plaintiffs’ property. Id. at 7-8. The order also barred Plaintiffs from conducting any discovery until they made such showings.
Plaintiffs offered evidence related to their medical complaints, as well as some air and water sampling, but offered no evidence that their injuries were causally connected to Defendants’ drilling operations. Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to comply with the order; the trial court granted the motion with prejudice.
The Colorado Supreme Court reversed, holding “Colorado’s Rules of Civil Procedure do not allow a trial court to issue a modified case management order, such as a Lone Pine order, that requires a plaintiff to present prima facie evidence in support of a claim before a plaintiff can exercise its full rights to discovery.” Id. at 11. While the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure are closely modeled after the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court found Colorado’s rules do not contain the same explicit grant of trial court discretion to fashion early-stage procedures to streamline complex litigation. The Court also expressed concern that, “if a Lone Pine order cuts off or severely limits the litigant’s right to discovery, the order closely resembles summary judgment, albeit without the safeguards supplied by the Rules of Civil Procedure.” Id. at 23.