After a recent round of post-trial motion briefing in Ely v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., Case No. 3:09-cv-02284-MCC (M.D. Pa.), it appears one of the most heavily publicized landowner lawsuits against an exploration and development company in recent memory may still be far from over.
This protracted legal battle originally began in 2009, when 44 landowners asserted Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.’s (Cabot) drilling activities contaminated the water supply to their homes in Dimock Township, located in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County.
The plaintiffs raised numerous claims, including allegations of nuisance, negligence, breach of contract, lost royalties, fraudulent inducement, medical monitoring and personal injuries.
The case was mired in publicity and controversy from the start, both in and out of the courtroom, particularly due to some of the original plaintiffs’ inclusion in the notorious anti-fracking film “Gasland.” It was also a study in instability, featuring frequent attorney migrations and the magistrate’s public denouncement of the plaintiffs’ attorney’s brazen pretrial “evidence dump,” two and a half years after the close of discovery and on the “eve of trial.” Doc. 685.
In spite of the chaos surrounding the proceeding, Cabot managed to score a big pretrial victory on January 12, 2015, when a district judge adopted the magistrate’s recommendation to grant partial summary judgment on many of the plaintiffs’ claims, leaving only the private nuisance and negligence claims. Doc. 567.
Due to various settlements, by the time this case went to trial in February 2016, only two families remained as plaintiffs.
On March 16, 2016, the jury entered a staggering $4.24 million verdict against Cabot and in favor of a group of landowner plaintiffs.
On April 7, 2016, Cabot quickly moved for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial, based on the improper actions of the plaintiffs’ attorney as to supportive evidence and procedure, as well as the plaintiffs’ failure to prove causation sufficient to support their claims, titled: “Motion Under Rules 50 and 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for Judgment as a Matter of Law, New Trial, or Remittitur.” Specifically, Cabot attacked the plaintiffs’ expert and asserted the plaintiffs never proved that any alleged contamination actually occurred after Cabot began drilling. Cabot further emphasized the aberrant nature of the remarkably large award.
This matter is still in the briefing stage at this time, and no ruling has been entered; however, on July 20, 2016, Cabot filed its reply brief in support of its post-trial motion. We will continue to monitor this matter for further developments.