Canfield v. Statoil USA Onshore Properties INC et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry).Signed by Honorable Malachy E Mannion on 3/22/17. (bs)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CHERYL B. CANFIELD,
: CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:16-0085
: (JUDGE MANNION)
STATOIL USA ONSHORE
PROPERTIES INC., STATOIL
NATURAL GAS LLC, and
Currently before the court are a motion to dismiss filed by defendant
Statoil Natural Gas LLC (“SNG”), (Doc. 25), and a motion to dismiss filed by
defendants Statoil USA Onshore Properties, Inc. (“SOP”) and Statoil ASA
(“Statoil ASA”), (Doc. 31). The defendants’ motions seek dismissal of all of the
putative class actions claims brought by plaintiff Cheryl B. Canfield
(“Canfield”), as detailed in her complaint, (Doc. 1). SOP and SNG are both
wholly owned, indirect subsidiaries of Statoil ASA.1 Canfield is the lessor of
a lease currently held, in part, by lessee SOP. Having reviewed the parties
submissions regarding Canfield’s putative class action claims, and based on
According to the disclosure statement filed with the court pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 7.1, SOP’s direct parent is Statoil USA
Properties Inc. and Statoil ASA indirectly owns stock in SOP, presumably
through ownership of Statoil USA Properties Inc. (See Doc. 13). The court will
presume that Statoil ASA wholly owns SOP’s parent corporation, Statoil USA
Properties Inc., in accordance with the facts stated in Canfield’s complaint.
SNG’s Rule 7.1 disclosure statement indicates that SNG is jointly owned by
two entities, Statoil US Holdings Inc. and Statoil Norsk LNG AS. (See Doc.
12). Both of these entities are wholly owned by Statoil ASA. (Id.).
the foregoing, SNG’s motion, (Doc. 25), is GRANTED in its entirety and
Statoil ASA’s and SOP’s motion, (Doc. 31), is GRANTED IN PART and
DENIED IN PART.
Canfield is the owner of property located at 3835 State Route 3004,
Meshoppen, Pennsylvania in the Marcellus Shale region. The Marcellus and
Utica shale regions in and around Pennsylvania contain one of the largest
natural gas formations in the world. On May 6, 2008, Canfield entered into an
oil and gas lease with Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation (“Cabot Oil”) for the
exploration of oil and natural gas on her land. Her lease was subsequently
acquired in part by defendant SOP, in part by Chesapeake Appalachia, L.L.C.
(“Chesapeake”), and in part by Epsilon Energy Ltd. Although Canfield’s
complaint, (Doc. 1), asserts various claims against the defendants, her
dispute primarily revolves around the royalty clause in her lease agreement
as it has been interpreted by lessee SOP.
All facts are taken from the plaintiff’s complaint, (Doc. 1), unless
otherwise noted. The facts alleged in the complaint must be accepted as true
in considering the defendants’ motions to dismiss. See Dieffenbach v. Dept.
of Revenue, 490 F. App’x 433, 435 (3d Cir. 2012); Evancho v. Evans, 423
F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005). The court will, however, look outside the
pleadings and look to other evidence submitted by the parties to establish any
facts needed to rule on Statoil ASA’s jurisdictional arguments.
Canfield’s Oil & Gas Lease
The royalty clause in Canfield’s lease provides for both an in-kind
percentage of oil or natural gas products to be delivered to Canfield’s tank
and for a percentage of the “amount realized” from the sale of any oil or
natural gas products extracted from her land.3 Specifically, clause three of the
lease provides as follows:
Lessee . . . shall pay the Lessor on gas, including casinghead
gas and other gaseous substances, produced and sold from the
premises fifteen percent (15%) of the amount realized from
the sale of gas at the well. “The amount realized from the
sale of the well” shall mean the amount realized from the sale
of the gas after deducting gathering, transportation,
compression, fuel, line loss, and any other post-production
costs and/or expenses incurred for the gas whether provided
by a third party, Lessee or by a wholly owned subsidiary of
Lessee. Lessee is authorized by Lessor to provide gathering,
transportation, compression, fuel, and other services for Lessor’s
gas either on its own or through one or more wholly owned
subsidiaries of Lessee and to deduct from the royalty to be paid
to the Lessor the costs and/or expenses of providing such
services including, without limitation, line-loss.
(Doc. 1-2, at 1, ¶3) (emphases added).
The above language in Canfield’s royalty clause allowed for the
deduction of post-production fees. Post-production fees are normally incurred
in order to transform the raw natural gas product into a finished, marketable
product to be sold downstream in the commercial chain. (See Doc. 1, at ¶30).
A superceding addendum to the primary lease document that was attached
It is unlikely that Canfield receives her in-kind percentage of natural
gas. (See Doc. 1-2, at 3 ¶10 (providing for payment “in lieu of supplying ‘free
gas’”)). Generally, it is impractical for a landowner to take an in-kind portion
of natural gas as it is a raw, unfinished product that is not suitable for usage.
See, e.g., Akin v. Marshall Oil Co., 41 A. 748 (Pa. 1989).
to the lease and signed and dated the same day as the initial lease document
modified the original lease terms. (Doc. 1-2, at 3–4). The addendum states
that if there are any inconsistences between the added terms in the
addendum and the printed lease terms, the added terms will control and
supercede the printed terms of the lease. (Id. at 3). Within this addendum is
a “ready for sale or use clause” directing the lessee to exclude any production
or post-production costs in its calculation of royalties, stating as follows:
Royalties shall be paid without deductions for the cost of
producing, gathering, storing, separating, treating, dehydrating,
compressing, transporting, or otherwise making the oil and/or gas
produced from the lease premises ready for sale or use.
(Id. at 4, ¶13).4 This language modified the royalty provision of the lease, and
expressly provides that the lessee shall not deduct certain post-production
Canfield describes this clause as a “Market Enhancement Clause” and
suggests that this clause allows lessee Chesapeake to deduct costs incurred
between the well and the downstream sale. (Doc. 1, at 12 n. 3). However, the
express language of the clause provides that “[r]oyalties shall be paid without
deductions for the cost . . . [to make] the oil and/or gas produced from the
lease premises ready for sale or use.” (Id. at 4 ¶13) (emphases added). While
the lessee may be entitled to deduct any costs after the product is “ready for
sale or use” or marketable, this clause expressly disallows any deductions
before that point. Thus, what Chesapeake is allowed to deduct requires a
more thorough inquiry and precise knowledge of the point at which the
product is ready for sale or use. More importantly, this clause does not verify
Chesapeake’s alleged method of computing royalties.
The Relationship Between Canfield and the Statoil Entities
Though Canfield originally entered into the lease agreement with Cabot
Oil, at some time in or around 2006, Chesapeake engaged in an aggressive
lease acquisition program to exploit natural gas from properties in the
Marcellus shale region, which included Canfield’s property. At some point
after she had entered into the agreement with Cabot Oil in 2008, Canfield’s
lease was transferred to Chesapeake, presumably as part of Chesapeake’s
overall plan to acquire leasehold interests in the area. In or around November
2008, Chesapeake also entered into industry participation agreements or joint
venture agreements with SOP.5 Under this agreement, SOP was to receive
a minority interest in Chesapeake’s holdings, including its lease interests. In
return, SOP was to provide Chesapeake with an up front cash payment and
would finance 75% of Chesapeake’s drilling and completion costs until $2.125
billion had been paid. Canfield is unsure whether her specific lease was
assigned to SOP from Chesapeake pursuant to this joint venture agreement
or if an assignment to SOP occurred simultaneously with the assignment to
Chesapeake from Cabot Oil. In any event, both companies now own a partial
interest in her lease originally entered into with Cabot Oil.
Canfield frequently refers to the defendants collectively as Statoil, with
no distinction between the entities. However, based on the extensive
arguments by the parties it is clear that neither Cabot Oil or Chesapeake
assigned any part of Canfield’s lease interest to SNG or Statoil ASA. The only
party to the assignment was SOP and the remaining defendants are
implicated by virtue of their corporate relationship to SOP. (See also Doc. 1,
SOP’s natural gas operations are distinct, however, from Chesapeake’s
operations, which ultimately results in noticeably different royalty payments
to Canfield. Upon extraction at the wellhead, SOP takes title to its in-kind
percentage of the natural gas extracted from Canfield’s land and immediately
sells the natural gas to its own affiliate, defendant SNG, pursuant to an
agreement between the two entities.6 Under this agreement, SNG takes title
to the raw product at the wellhead and then contracts with third parties for
post-production services, transforming the raw product into a finished product.
SNG also contracts with pipeline companies to transport the natural gas
through the interstate pipeline system. SNG, ultimately, resells the final
product to third-party buyers at receipt/delivery gates along the interstate
system, at Citygates. Thus, SOP holds the lease interests for immediate sale
and SNG serves as a marketing company, taking title at the well, transforming
the product into a finished one, and then selling the post-production product
to distribution companies, industrial customers, and power generators
Partly at issue in this action is the agreement between SOP and SNG
for the price of the raw natural gas at the wellhead where title is transferred
Canfield’s complaint is unclear with respect to SOP’s role. Canfield is
unsure if her own lease was acquired by virtue of the industry participation
agreement with Chesapeake or through an assignment from Cabot Oil. (Doc.
1, at ¶15). Thus, with respect to her lease, it is unclear if SOP actually
produces the gas or simply holds title to the product and allows Chesapeake
to serve as producer or “operator” and bear all production costs—costs
incurred to extract the product from the land. This should, ultimately, be
clarified through discovery.
from SOP to SNG. Their agreement fixes the price of the raw natural gas to
a uniform hub price or index price for natural gas, regardless of whether the
natural gas is ever delivered to that particular hub on the interstate pipeline
system. SOP does not dispute that it fixes the price at the wellhead to an
index price. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained the use of index
prices as follows:
Natural gas is transported throughout North America via a
network of pipelines. The gas transportation network is centered
around ‘hubs,’ which are geographical locations where major
pipeline systems interlink. These hubs act as separate markets,
at which supply and demand dictate prices that may differ
between the hubs.
The market index prices for physical gas are most prominently
published in two privately owned newsletters: [Platts’] Inside
FERC Gas Market Report (“Inside FERC”) and Natural Gas
Intelligence (“NGI”). Both of these publications publish the natural
gas price marketing indicators at the major pipeline hubs and
market centers in the United States, and it is undisputed that both
publications are highly influential to market prices for physical
gas. The indexes are also are used to determine royalties and
public gas contracts, among other things. The publications gather
pricing information about the various markets and pipeline hubs
by requesting data about physical gas transactions from natural
gas traders. After receiving data from the gas traders, and taking
a variety of other factors into account, the publications release
indexes that purport to represent the price of natural gas at
different delivery points.
United States v. Brooks, 681 F.3d 678, 685 (5th Cir. 2012).
In or around April 2010, SOP and SNG began using this index price as
opposed to what Canfield describes as an “actual negotiated price” at the
direction of Statoil ASA. (Doc. 1, at 26). Canfield alleges that the original hub
price was set at the Dominion South Point Hub (“DSPH”), with this hub
changing to the Tennessee Zone 4 “300 Leg” index price or hub in or around
September 2013. Canfield’s royalties are calculated using this fixed, index
In contrast to SOP, Chesapeake pays a royalty to leaseholders based
on a price paid by third-parties downstream of the wellhead. Chesapeake’s
royalty price is, thus, based on the final natural gas product after the
deduction of post-production costs and is calculated using the sale price of
the finished product. Like SOP, Chesapeake also deals with an affiliate
marketing entity. This marketing entity aggregates all the natural gas held
under various leases and sells it downstream from the well. To calculate
royalties to landowners, Chesapeake uses a weighted average sales price
(“WASP”) that uses prices paid by downstream buyers. According to Canfield,
Chesapeake also deducts any costs incurred for post-production services
before calculating royalties—i.e., usage of the net-back method to arrive at a
The differences in Chesapeake’s royalty calculation compared to SOP’s
calculation results in a different price paid to leaseholders, including Canfield,
dependant on whether or not the lessee is Chesapeake or SOP. This is true
even though the underlying lease is the same. As an illustration of this point,
Canfield provided tables of her royalty unit payments for the months of
September 2013 through September 2015. These payments were calculated
using a per metric cubic foot (mcf) measurement of natural gas extracted from
Canfield’s land. The tables indicate that during nearly all of the months from
September 2013 to September 2015, with the exception of December 2014,
Canfield received a higher royalty per mcf of natural gas extracted from her
land from Chesapeake as compared to SOP. Thus, Chesapeake’s different
interpretation of the same lease agreement has led to a divergence in
royalties payments to Canfield for the same quantities of natural gas even
though both entities’ lease document is held by the same lessor and contains
the same royalty provision.
On January 15, 2016, Canfield filed a putative class action complaint
against Statoil ASA, SOP, and SNG alleging seven separate causes of action.
Three of these claims were solely against SOP. In her first claim, Canfield
alleged that SOP breached the express terms of the royalty clause in her
lease agreement by using an index price that did not reflect an actual market
price for natural gas. In her second claim, Canfield alleged that SOP
breached the lease by engaging in an affiliate sale with SNG which did not
constitute an “arms’-length transaction.” (Doc. 1, ¶40). In her fourth claim,
Canfield alleged that SOP breached the implied covenant of good faith and
fair dealing in the lease by engaging in an affiliate sale. She also alleged that
SOP “had an obligation to use reasonable best efforts to market the gas to
achieve the best price available.” (Id. ¶50). Thus, the fourth claim is a duty of
good faith claim and/or a duty to market claim.
Several claims were brought against all the defendants collectively. In
her third claim, Canfield brought a civil conspiracy claim, alleging that the
defendants “acted together with a common purpose to unlawfully cheat
Landowners and their contractual rights” by orchestrating “sham sale
transactions among themselves.” (Id. ¶¶45–50). In her fifth claim, Canfield
brought a quasi-contract claim against all the defendants alleging they were
unjustly enriched. In her seventh claim, Canfield sought an accounting against
all of the defendants for gas and royalty calculations.
Canfield brought one claim against Statoil ASA and SNG alone. In this
sixth claim, Canfield alleged that Statoil ASA and SNG tortiously interfered
with her contract/lease with SOP by “deliberately and without justification”
causing SOP to breach the gas lease. (Id. ¶59).
In response to Canfield’s complaint, on July 9, 2016, SNG filed one of
the current motions to dismiss and a supporting brief. (Doc. 25, Doc. 26). Also
on July 9, 2016, SOP and Statoil ASA, collectively, filed a motion to dismiss
with a supporting brief. (Doc. 31, Doc. 32). The defendants’ motions seek
dismissal of all the claims in Canfield’s complaint. Unique among the
defendants, Statoil ASA primarily seeks dismissal pursuant to Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2), and 12(b)(5), arguing that this court
lacks subject-matter over claims against the entity and lacks personal
jurisdiction over the entity. Statoil ASA’s subject-matter jurisdiction argument
is premised on its alleged immunity from suit under the Foreign Sovereign
Immunities Act of 1976 (“FSIA”), PUB. L. NO. 94-583, 90 STAT. 2891 (codified
at and amending scattered sections of 28 U.S.C.). In addition, and in the
alternative for Statoil ASA, the defendants seek dismissal pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Canfield has failed to state any
On August 22, 2016, after requesting and receiving an extension of
time, Canfield filed a brief in opposition to the defendants motions. (Doc. 40).
On September 30, 2016, after requesting and receiving an extension of time,
SNG filed a reply brief in support of its motion, (Doc. 45), and SOP and Statoil
ASA filed their own, separate reply brief in support of their motion, (Doc. 46).
On November 23, 2016, over six weeks after the defendants had filed their
reply briefs, Canfield filed a motion for leave to file a sur-reply to the
defendants’ reply briefs. (See Doc. 56). SOP and Statoil ASA opposed this
request. (See Doc. 57, Doc. 60). The court denied Canfield’s request to file
a sur-reply because it was untimely, not in compliance with local rules, and
not warranted. (See Doc. 66, Doc. 67). The defendants’ motions are, thus,
ripe for review.
STATOIL ASA’S JURISDICTIONAL CHALLENGE
Statoil ASA challenges the subject-matter and personal jurisdiction of
this court. Canfield alleges in her complaint that subject-matter jurisdiction is
premised on 28 U.S.C. §1332 and that all of the defendants’ business
activities are “within the flow of, and have affected substantially, interstate
trade and commerce.” (Doc. 1, ¶7). However, Statoil ASA is a Norwegian
corporation with its principle office located in Stavanger, Norway and, based
on a 2014 Form 20-F SEC filing attached to Statoil ASA’s motion to dismiss,
the Kingdom of Norway owns a two-thirds direct ownership interest in the
company. (Doc. 32-2, at 10). Based on this information, both parties agree
that Statoil ASA is an instrumentality of the Kingdom of Norway as defined by
the FSIA7 and that jurisdiction over such an entity is only proper under 28
U.S.C. §1330. Thus, Canfield’s jurisdictional statement is clearly deficient.
Assuming this court would allow the plaintiff to cure the technical
deficiency in her jurisdictional statement, the only remaining issue is whether
Canfield’s claims against Statoil ASA fit within an exception to FSIA immunity,
vesting this court with subject-matter jurisdiction. Also at issue is whether
Statoil ASA was properly served and whether Statoil ASA maintained
sufficient minimum contacts with the forum to satisfy the constitutional
requirements of personal jurisdiction. Based on the foregoing, the court finds
that it lacks subject-matter over Canfield’s claims against Statoil ASA and
lacks personal jurisdiction over Statoil ASA.
See 28 U.S.C. 1603(a),(b)(2) (including an instrumentality of a foreign
state within the definition of a “foreign state” and defining an instrumentality
of a foreign state as any entity with a majority share owned by a foreign state
or political subdivision of a foreign state).
Standards of Review
Rule 12(b)(1) provides for the dismissal of a complaint based on a “lack
of subject-matter jurisdiction.” FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1). “A motion to dismiss
under Rule 12(b)(1) challenges the jurisdiction of the court to address the
merits of the plaintiff’s complaint.” Vieth v. Pennsylvania, 188 F. Supp. 2d
532, 537 (M.D. Pa. 2002). Because the district court is a court of limited
jurisdiction, the burden of establishing subject-matter jurisdiction always rests
upon the party asserting it. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life. Ins. Co. of
America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Generally, however, district courts “enjoy
substantial flexibility in handling Rule 12(b)(1) motions.” McCann v. Newmann
Irrevocable Trust, 458 F.3d 281, 290 (3d Cir. 2006).
An attack on the court’s jurisdiction may be either “facial” or “factual”
and the “distinction determines how the pleading must be reviewed.”
Constitution Party of Pennsylvania v. Aichele, 757 F.3d 347, 357 (3d Cir.
2014). A facial attack tests the sufficiency of the pleadings, while a factual
attack challenges whether a plaintiff’s claims fail to comport factually with
jurisdictional prerequisites. Id. at 358; see also S.D. v. Haddon Heights Bd.
of Educ., 833 F.3d 389, 394 n. 5 (3d Cir. 2016). If the defendant brings a
factual attack, the district court may look outside the pleadings to ascertain
facts needed to determine whether jurisdiction exists, which is distinct from
a facial attack. Id. If there are factual deficiencies, the court’s jurisdictional
determination may require a hearing, particularly where the disputed facts are
material to finding jurisdiction. McCann, 458 F.3d at 290.
With regard to facial deficiencies, “[d]efective allegations of jurisdiction
may be amended, upon terms, in the trial or appellate courts” to fix
jurisdictional defects in a pleading. 28 U.S.C. §1653. “Section 1653 gives both
district and appellate courts the power to remedy inadequate jurisdictional
allegations, but not defective jurisdictional facts.” USX Corp. v. Adriatic Ins.
Co., 345 F.3d 190, 204 (3d Cir. 2003). Further, a district court may be abusing
its discretion by not allowing a plaintiff the opportunity to cure technical
deficiencies in the jurisdictional statements found in the plaintiff’s complaint.
See Scattergood v. Perelman, 945 F.2d 618, 627 (3d Cir. 1991).“The court
should freely give leave [to amend] when justice so requires.” FED. R. CIV. P.
Rule 12(b)(2) and Rule 12(b)(5)
Rule 12(b)(2) provides for the dismissal of a complaint due to a “lack of
personal jurisdiction.” FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(2).
To survive a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, a
plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the court’s jurisdiction
over the moving defendants. However, when the court does not
hold an evidentiary hearing on the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff
need only establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction and
the plaintiff is entitled to have its allegations taken as true and all
factual disputes drawn in its favor.
Miller Yacht Sales, Inc. v. Smith, 384 F.3d 93, 97 (3d Cir. 2004) (internal
citation omitted). “Once these allegations are contradicted by an opposing
affidavit, however, plaintiff must present similar evidence in support of
personal jurisdiction.” In re Chocolate Confectionary Antitrust Litig., 674 F.
Supp. 2d 580, 595 (M.D. Pa. 2009). The plaintiff will not be able to rely on the
bare pleadings alone. Id. “Once the motion is made, plaintiff must respond
with actual proofs, not mere allegations.” Patterson ex rel. Patterson v. F.B.I.,
893 F.2d 595, 604 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Time Share Vacation Club v.
Atlantic Resorts, Ltd., 735 F.2d 61, 67 n. 9 (3d Cir. 1984)). Courts may look
beyond the pleadings when ruling on a motion brought under Rule 12(b)(2).
In re Chocolate Confectionary Antitrust Litig., 674 F. Supp. 2d at 595. “A Rule
12(b)(2) motion . . . is inherently a matter which requires resolution of factual
issues outside the pleadings.” Patterson, 893 F.2d at 603 (quoting Time
Share Vacation Club, 735 F.2d at 67 n. 9). Thus, “[c]onsideration of affidavits
submitted by the parties is appropriate and, typically, necessary.” In re
Chocolate Confectionary Antitrust Litig., 674 F. Supp. 2d at 595.
Rule 12(b)(5) provides for the dismissal of a complaint based on
“insufficient service of process.” FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(5). “The party asserting
the validity of service bears the burden of proof on that issue.” Kohar v. Wells
Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 15-1469, 2016 WL 1449580, at *2 (W.D. Pa. April 13,
2016) (quoting Grand Entm’t Grp., Ltd. v. Star Media Sales, Inc., 988 F.2d
476, 488 (3d Cir. 1993)). “That party must do so by a preponderance of the
evidence using affidavits, depositions, and oral testimony.” Id.
However, where an objection has been raised under Rule 12(b)(2)
based on a lack of personal jurisdiction, a defendant need not raise a
separate personal jurisdiction objection based on insufficient service; a
defendant is not required to raise an identical objection twice. McCurdy v. Am.
Bd. of Plastic Surgery, 157 F.3d 191, 196 (3d Cir. 1998). “Where personal
jurisdiction is lacking, ‘[c]learly, a Rule 12(b)(2) motion . . . [is] more
appropriate’ than one under Rule 12(b)(5).” Id. (quoting 5A Charles Alan
Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil §1353 at
278–79 (2d ed. 1990)) (alterations in original). Under the FSIA, proper service
is a prerequisite to personal jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. §1330(b). Thus,
Statoil ASA’s service argument is simply an alternative basis for finding a lack
of personal jurisdiction and will be treated as such.
Statoil ASA’s attack on subject-matter jurisdiction is both facial and
factual. Statoil ASA argues that Canfield’s complaint is deficient with respect
to asserting jurisdiction over a foreign instrumentality. Statoil ASA also argues
that it is presumptively entitled to immunity under the FSIA. Canfield has
argued that an exception to immunity applies based on the relationship
between Statoil ASA and its indirect subsidiaries. The court, however, finds
that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims against Statoil ASA.
The FSIA “provides the sole basis for obtaining jurisdiction over a
foreign state[, including an instrumentality of a foreign state,] in the courts of
this country.” OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs, 136 S. Ct. 390, 393 (2015)
(quoting Argentine Republic v. Amerada Hess Shipping Corp., 488 U.S. 428,
443 (1989)). Once an entity is determined to be a foreign state for purposes
of the FSIA, the entity is “presumptively immune from the jurisdiction of United
States courts” unless an exception to the FSIA applies. Id. (quoting Saudi
Arabia v. Nelson, 507 U.S. 349, 355 (1993)); see also Fed. Ins. Co. v. Richard
I. Rubin & Co., 12 F.3d 1270, 1285 (3d Cir. 1993). After presumptive immunity
is found, the burden of production then shifts to the plaintiff to show an
exception applies. Fed. Ins. Co., 12 F.3d at 1285; see also Richardson v.
Donovan, No. 14-3753,__F. App’x__, 2016 WL 7240172, at *2 (3d Cir. Dec.
15, 2016) (non-precedential). However, the ultimate burden of proving
immunity, that of persuasion, always remains with the party seeking immunity.
Id. The parties agree that Statoil ASA is an instrumentality of a foreign state
and is, therefore, presumptively immune from suit.
Based on the above alone, the court agrees with Statoil ASA that
Canfield’s complaint is facially deficient. It does not reference the FSIA or the
specific exception that applies. See FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(1) (providing that a
pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the grounds for the
court’s jurisdiction”). However, as further discussed below, an exception may
or may not apply based on the allegation in Canfield’s complaint that Statoil
ASA “exercised complete control” over SNG and SOP and “directed the
activities” of these indirect subsidiaries to “maximize its own corporate profits.”
(Doc. 1, ¶3). Canfield has argued extensively in her opposition brief that an
exception does apply, in part, based on this language. If the facial deficiency
were the end of the matter the court would grant Canfield leave to amend her
complaint to include an FSIA exception in the spirit of Rule 15(a)(2). However,
based on the arguments presented by both parties, the court finds that
Canfield’s argument for subject-matter jurisdiction is also factually deficient
and that no FSIA exception applies.
Canfield argues that the commercial activity exception, 28 U.S.C.
§1605(a)(2), applies to save her claims against Statoil ASA. Despite the
varying degrees of ownership and their separate corporate status, Canfield
asserts in her complaint that Statoil ASA “exercised complete control” over
SNG and SOP and “directed the activities” of these indirect subsidiaries.
(Doc. 1, ¶3). Canfield argues that this conduct is sufficient to satisfy the
commercial activity exception. Statoil ASA argues that this conduct is not
sufficient and that in the event Canfield seeks to use an alter ego theory to
impute the actions of SOP and SNG to Statoil ASA this attempt should fail.
The FSIA provision granting courts with subject-matter jurisdiction
provides as follows:
The district courts shall have original jurisdiction without regard to
amount in controversy of any nonjury civil action against a foreign
state as defined in section 1603(a) of this title as to any claim for
relief in personam with respect to which the foreign state is not
entitled to immunity either under sections 1605–1607 of this title
or under any applicable international agreement.
28 U.S.C. §1330(a). Thus, subject-matter jurisdiction is defined in the
negative to capture all foreign states who are not immune based on an
enumerated exception. Canfield relies on the commercial activity exception
to save her claims. See 28 U.S.C. §1605(a)(2). This exception provides three
distinct circumstances where a foreign state will not be immune. It provides
that a foreign state will not be immune when the action is:
based upon a commercial activity carried on in the United States
by the foreign state; or
based upon an act performed in the United States in connection
with a commercial activity of the foreign state elsewhere; or
based upon an act outside the territory of the United States in
connection with a commercial activity of the foreign state
elsewhere and that act causes a direct effect in the United States.
The phrase “commercial activity” arises in each of the three types of
conduct described in the commercial activity exception and is a crucial
element to obtaining subject-matter jurisdiction. Velidor v. L/P/G Benghazi,
653 F.2d 812, 817 (3d Cir. 1981). The FSIA defines commercial activity as
“either a regular course of commercial conduct or a particular transaction or
act.” 28 U.S.C. §1603(d). The definition goes on to state that “[t]he
commercial character of an activity shall be determined by reference to the
nature of the course of conduct or particular transaction or act, rather than by
reference to its purpose.” Id. The Supreme Court of the United States has
defined this phrase further, particularly the term commercial, to comply with
the restrictive theory of foreign sovereign immunity that was prevalent during
the time of the statute’s enactment. Republic of Argentina v. Weltover, 504
U.S. 607, 612–13 (1992). Under the Supreme Court’s definition of the term,
“when a foreign government acts, not as regulator of market, but in the
manner of a private player within it, the foreign sovereign’s actions are
‘commercial’ within the meaning if the FSIA.” Id. at 614. The important inquiry
is not the profit motive or lack thereof of the foreign state, but whether the
particular action is the type of action a private party would engage in. Id.;
Nelson, 507 U.S. at 358–362.
Each of the three clauses also requires that the action be “based upon”
the activity or act conferring jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. §1605(a)(2). In Saudi
Arabia v. Nelson, the Court compared the phrase “based upon a commercial
activity” in the first clause to the “based upon” language as applied to the
second and third clause. 507 U.S. at 358. Unlike the first clause, the second
and third clauses simply require an action “based upon” acts performed “in
connection with” some commercial activity. 28 U.S.C. §1605(a)(2). Analyzing
these distinctions, the Court found that the “based upon” language as applied
to the first clause required that there be “more than a mere connection with,
or relation to commercial activity.” Id. In OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs,
the Court further defined the “based upon” language as applied to the first
clause to mean that, in order to fall within the first clause, the commercial
activity must form the “gravamen” or “core” of the claim when looking at the
particular activity or conduct underlying the plaintiff’s claim. 136 S. Ct. at
Canfield relies on the first clause of the commercial activity exception.8
Canfield’s brief in opposition provides various types of activities engaged in
by the defendants to try and qualify Statoil ASA’s conduct under this particular
exception. Some of these activities include:
Statoil ASA’s “directing” or “controlling” the conduct of SOP and
SNG, (Doc. 40, at 8);
SOP’s purchase of natural gas from landowners, (Id. at 9);
SOP’s resale of natural gas to SNG, (Id.);
SOP’s royalty payment to Canfield, (Id.); and
Statoil ASA’s alleged tortious interference with Canfield’s gas
Statoil ASA’s alleged tortious interference itself is not commercial
activity and, thus, can never qualify under the commercial activity exception.
See Nelson, 507 U.S. at 358 (finding that the defendant’s “tortious conduct
itself fail[ed] to qualify as ‘commercial activity’ within the meaning of the
[FSIA]”). Statoil’s “directing” or “controlling” of Statoil ASA are, allegedly, the
As Statoil ASA notes in its reply brief, in a single instance Canfield
suggests that “at a minimum” Statoil ASA “caused a direct injury in the United
States.” (Doc. 40, at 10). Even if the court were to construe this single
allegation as an argument under the third clause of the commercial activity
exception it would fail. The third clause requires activity outside of the United
States. 28 U.S.C. §1605(a)(2). Canfield has not explained what outside
commercial activity she might be referring to. Instead, the majority of
Canfield’s argument and the subheading in her brief suggest that all of the
alleged activity occurred within the United States, bringing it under the first
tortious actions. Again, this tortious conduct itself cannot qualify under the
commercial activity exception.9
The remaining activities that Canfield cites to—i.e., those not relating to
alleged tortious activity—are plausibly within the commercial activity
exception, but only when using an alter ego or veil piercing theory to impute
the activities of SOP to Statoil ASA. The purchase of natural gas, resale of the
natural gas, and the payment of royalties are all part of the actions that form
the basis of Canfield’s claims. See Sachs, 136 S. Ct. at 395. However, these
actions were all performed by SOP, not Statoil ASA, a separate entity. Thus,
the only way to fit Statoil ASA’s conduct within the commercial activity
exception in accord with Sachs is to impute the commercial conduct of SOP
to Statoil ASA.
Imposing an alter ego theory on Statoil ASA would make more sense
if Canfield had sued both SOP and Statoil ASA for breach of contract and
unjust enrichment in the alternative. Looking to the alleged facts that might
establish Canfield’s entitlement to relief, the “gravamen” or “core” of Canfield’s
claims are based on SOP’s usage of an index price to calculate royalties and
Although not argued by Canfield, this activity also does not fall within
the non-commercial tort exception. 28 U.S.C. §1605(a)(5). This exception
denies immunity if the foreign state has engaged in a tort causing personal
injury or property loss unless that claim is based on (1) the performance or
failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or (2) malicious
prosecution, abuse of process, libel, slander, misrepresentation, deceit, or
interference with contract rights. 28 U.S.C. §1605(a)(5). Thus, to assert
subject-matter jurisdiction over Canfield’s tortious interference claim against
Statoil ASA would be contrary to the clear guidance of the non-commercial
SOP’s engagement in affiliate sales with SNG. Thus, the gravamen of the
complaint against SOP is the breach of her gas lease. It follows that imputing
the actions of SOP to Statoil ASA would mean that the gravamen of that claim
is also breach of contract. However, Canfield did not bring a claim of breach
of contract claim against Statoil ASA. Her claim against Statoil is solely
premised on unjust enrichment. Canfield cannot have it both ways. Canfield
cannot impute the actions of SOP to Statoil ASA for jurisdictional purposes,
but then sue Statoil ASA on a different theory than that asserted against the
Under different circumstances the court might allow Canfield to amend
her complaint to include a breach of contract action against Statoil ASA for
logical clarity. However, the court would have to allow Canfield to assert this
claim using the alter ego theory announced by the Supreme Court in First
National City Bank v. Banco Para El Comercio Exterior de Cuba (“Bancec”),
462 U.S. 611 (1983). This would effectively breach Statoil ASA’s corporate
veil as an indirect parent. The court finds that such an extreme measure is not
warranted in this case.
The Bancec case is the Supreme Court’s seminal case on using alter
ego theories under the FSIA. The Bancec decision set out, as a basic
principle, that “duly created instrumentalities of a foreign state are to be
accorded a presumption of independent status.” 462 U.S. at 627. Breaking
from this proposition, the Court used equitable principles to hold that the
separate status of a foreign state and its instrumentality would be disregarded
where doing so would be an injustice, particularly where the foreign state
would reap the benefits of filing suit in a United States court while avoiding its
obligations under international law. 462 U.S. at 632–33. The Supreme Court
was guided by private law principles between corporations and their
subsidiaries in reaching this conclusion. Id. at 623.
Again turning to private law principles, the Court found an exception to
separate corporate identity would be made where the “corporate entity is so
extensively controlled by its owner that a relationship of principle and agent
is created” or where adhering to the entities separate state would “work fraud
or injustice.” Id. at 628–29. The Supreme Court noted that these exceptions
were especially applicable in cases where the corporate form was used to
evade legislative policies. Id. at 630. Ultimately, the exception was equitable
in nature and was used to avoid an injustice. Id. at 630–31. Though Bancec
did not specifically involve the commercial activity exception under the FSIA,
appellate courts, including the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, have applied the
principles in Bancec when making jurisdictional determinations under the
FSIA commercial activity exception. Fed. Ins. Co., 12 F.3d at 1287 (collecting
cases). In addition, although Bancec did not deal directly with an
instrumentality and its subsidiary, and instead with a foreign state and its
instrumentality, the Third Circuit has applied the Bancec principles to such a
case. See id. at 1286–1287.
The only way for this court to have subject-matter jurisdiction over
contract claims against Statoil ASA based on the commercial conduct of SOP
is if one of the two exceptions in Bancec applies. The only relevant exception,
based on Canfield’s own arguments, would be that of control, that is, that
SOP “is so extensively controlled by [Statoil ASA] that a relationship of
principle and agent is created.” Bancec, 462 U.S. at 629. This might be true
if Statoil ASA “exercised complete control” over SNG and SOP and “directed
the activities” of SOP, as Canfield asserts. (Doc. 1, ¶3). Canfield has not,
however, presented any evidence to suggest this allegation might plausibly
There are several alter ego tests within this circuit,10 with varying names,
but all seek the same purpose of holding a parent liable for the actions of a
subsidiary or a corporation responsible for the actions of its shareholders. See
Vacaflor v. Pennsylvania State Univ., No. 4:13-CV-00601, 2014 WL 3573593,
at *3 n. 2 (M.D. Pa. July 21, 2014). The traditional alter ego test in this circuit
assesses the following factors: “gross undercapitalization, failure to observe
corporate formalities, nonpayment of dividends, insolvency of debtor
The Supreme Court did not provide factors to be used do determine
control and explicitly refused to provide a mechanical formula. Bancec, 462
U.S. at 633–34. Courts applying Bancec have looked to private corporate law
for guidance. See, e.g., Bridas S.A.P.I.C. v. Government of Turkmenistan,
447 F.3d 411, 481 (5th Cir. 2006). In Bancec, the court looked specifically to
federal common law as the Court found this body of law to comport with
international law. 462 U.S. at 623; see also Kirschenbaum v. 650 Fifth
Avenue & Related Props., 830 F.3d 107, 130 (2d Cir. 2016) (citing its own
circuit case law to establish factors relevant to the alter ego analysis under
Bancec). As such, although the inquiry is governed by “internationally
recognized equitable principles,” the court looks to federal common law and
alter ego or veil piercing case law in the private context within this circuit for
guidance. Bancec, 462 U.S. at 633.
corporation, siphoning of funds from the debtor corporation by the dominant
stockholder, nonfunctioning of officers and directors, absence of corporate
records, and whether the corporation is merely a facade for the operations of
the dominant stockholder.” Pearson v. Component Tech. Corp., 247 F.3d 471,
484–85 (3d Cir. 2001). Where the relationship is one between two
corporations and the “shareholder” is actually another corporate entity, the
plaintiff “must essentially demonstrate that in all aspects of the business, the
two corporations actually functioned as a single entity.” Id. at 485. In addition,
there must be “some overall element of injustice or unfairness” present.
Trevino v. Merscopr, Inc., 583 F. Supp. 2d 521, 529 (D. Del. 2008) (quoting
United States v. Golden Acres, Inc., 702 F. Supp. 1097, 1104 (D. Del. 1988));
see also Vacaflor, 2014 WL 3573593, at *3 (concluding that all applicable
alter ego tests in the circuit require “some impropriety or injustice”).
No one factor in the traditional test is dispositive. Trevino, 583 F. Supp.
2d at 529. Holding complete ownership over the entity is also not dispositive.
“A corporate parent which owns the shares of a subsidiary does not, for that
reason alone, own or have legal title to the assets of the subsidiary.” See Dole
Food Co. v. Patrickson, 538 U.S. 468, 475 (2003). While the court should look
at the circumstances as a whole, generally, veil piecing or alter ego theory
should only be used as a “rare exception, applied in the case of fraud or
certain other exceptional circumstances.” Id.
Here, Canfield has not presented a single allegation that would link the
conduct of Statoil ASA to SOP under the traditional test, nor has she asserted
any exceptional circumstance that would warrant holding Statoil ASA
responsible for SOP’s actions. Canfield did attach Statoil ASA’s 2011
Schedule 13D filed with the Securities Exchange Commission to try to
establish an alter ego theory for purposes of personal jurisdiction. (Doc. 40-1,
Ex. 3). The court carefully reviewed this document for any indication of
control. However, not a single board member (ten total) or executive officer
(ten total) listed for Statoil ASA were shown to have any connection to SOP,
either as a board member or executive officer of SOP. (Id., Ex. 3 ). Only three
out of the twenty Statoil ASA board members and executive officers had any
connection with the United States at all, one through citizenship alone and the
other two based on business addresses listed on the schedule. One executive
officer was shown to have a connection with Statoil USA Properties Inc. as an
executive officer, but not SOP. Statoil USA Properties Inc. is SOP’s direct
parent.11 As indicated by Canfield’s own documentation, none of the board
members and executives listed for Statoil ASA were shown to have a
connection to SOP. Thus, at this stage, the allegation that Statoil ASA
“controlled” and “directed” SOP, a separate entity, is pure speculation.
The court is also not convinced that equity would be best served by
imposing an alter ego theory on Statoil ASA. The court can see no “element
of injustice or unfairness” present to warrant imposing such an extreme
measure over the foreign instrumentality. Trevino, 583 F. Supp. 2d at 529
(quoting Golden Acres, 702 F. Supp. at 1104). There is no injustice in forcing
See supra, n. 1.
Canfield to proceed with her claims without Statoil ASA present. She has not
alleged a claim of fraud against Statoil ASA or SOP, a typical circumstance
justifying piercing the corporate veil. Nor has she indicated that she would be
deprived of a remedy if forced to assert her contract claims without Statoil
Canfield requested jurisdictional discovery in her brief in opposition.
(Doc. 40, at 16). Currently, the parties are engaged in fact discovery. (See
Doc. 64). If Canfield had alleged some plausible basis for veil piercing, the
court would be more willing to allow additional time for jurisdictional discovery.
Generally, “the parties should be granted a fair opportunity to engage in
jurisdictional discovery so as to adequately define and submit to the court
facts necessary for a thorough consideration of the [immunity] issue.” Fed.
Ins. Co., 12 F.3d at 1284 n. 11. However, as other courts have noted, there
is tension between permitting discovery and protecting a foreign state’s or its
instrumentality’s claim to immunity, including immunity from discovery. Arriba
Ltd. v. Petroleos Mexicanos, 962 F.2d 528, 534 (5th Cir. 1992). The court
must attempt to balance the need for discovery to substantiate the plaintiff’s
claim that an exception to sovereign immunity exists and the sovereign’s
claim to immunity altogether. Butler v. Sukhoi Co., 579 F.3d 1307, 1314 (11th
Cir. 2009); In re Papandreou, 139 F.3d 247, 253 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (“[A] district
court authorizing discovery . . . must proceed with circumspection, lest the
evaluation of the immunity itself encroach unduly on the benefits the immunity
was to ensure.”). Moreover, it is also not an abuse of discretion to deny
jurisdictional discovery where the complaint utterly fails to provide a prima
facie case that the district court has jurisdiction. Id.
Here, the complaint fails to show any facts that would lead this court to
conclude that SOP is or was the alter ego of Statoil ASA in the underlying
natural gas transactions. The briefing also fails to allege any specific facts that
might be used to show that SOP was the alter ego of Statoil ASA. Canfield
also has not come forward with any supplemental facts to indicate jurisdiction
is proper. Thus, at this stage, Canfield’s ability to ever meet the requirements
of Bancec’s control test is pure speculation. Meanwhile, discovery into Statoil
ASA’s business operations will be highly intrusive. Further, the court can see
no equitable basis for imposing such a burden. Accordingly, the court will
deny Canfield’s request for any additional jurisdictional discovery.
In addition to lacking subject-matter jurisdiction, the court finds it also
lacks personal jurisdiction over Statoil ASA. The FSIA provides that
“[p]ersonal jurisdiction over a foreign state shall exist as to every claim for
relief over which the district courts have jurisdiction under subsection (a)
where service has been made under section 1608 of this title.” 28 U.S.C.
§1330(b). Thus, under the FSIA, a finding of personal jurisdiction requires a
finding of subject-matter jurisdiction and proper service. Though not in the
language of the FSIA, the Due Process Clause of the United States
Constitution also limits the exercise of personal jurisdiction over foreign
defendants. The court may only exercise personal jurisdiction where the
defendant has “certain minimum contacts with [the forum] such that the
maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and
substantial justice.”12 Int’l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945).
The court has already found that subject-matter jurisdiction is lacking. In
addition, Statoil ASA has not been properly served.
Normally, service must occur within 90 days after the filing of a
complaint, but this rule does not apply where the defendant is a foreign
instrumentality. FED. R. CIV. P. 4(m). Courts are also more flexible in allowing
extra time for service where the plaintiff has made a good faith effort to
attempt service. See, e.g., Allstate Ins. Co. v. Hewlett-Packerd Co., No. 113cv-02559, 2015 WL 179041, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 14, 2015); Lewis v. Vollmer
of Am., No. 15-1632, 2006 WL 3308568, at *3 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 25, 2006). This
flexibility will not be applied where the plaintiff has made no attempt at
service. See Allstate Ins. Co. v. Funai Corp., 249 F.R.D. 157, 161 (M.D. Pa.
The court will not address Statoil ASA’s minimum contacts argument
and, instead, rules on other grounds. However, the same reasons that lead
the court to conclude it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction—the absence of a
plausible alter ego theory—would likely lead the court to conclude that Statoil
ASA did not have sufficient contact with the United States to warrant asserting
personal jurisdiction, under either a specific or general subject matter
jurisdiction analysis. See In re Chocolate Confectionary Antitrust Litig., 674
F. Supp. 2d 580, 595 (M.D. Pa. 2009). Canfield has not shown that Statoil
ASA had any actual contact with the United States. Simply creating a United
States entity, Statoil USA Properties Inc., that later created another entity,
SOP, is not enough. Thus, Canfield would need to impute the activities of
those United States entities to Statoil ASA, which, thus far, she cannot do.
Canfield has made no actual attempt at service and flexibility under the
rules would not be justified. Canfield admits that she has not properly served
Statoil ASA. Canfield requests that the court excuse this failure and allow
more time because she believes she has made a good faith attempt to serve
Statoil ASA. In support of this, Canfield submitted an affirmation from her
attorney, John F. Harnes, explaining his attempts at service. (Doc. 40-1).
However, this document does not show that any actual attempt at service was
In his affirmation, Attorney Harnes first explains that he believed Statoil
ASA would waive service based on a review of other dockets where Statoil
ASA was listed as a defendant. (Id. ¶4). He did initially provide Statoil ASA’s
counsel with a copy of the complaint. (Id. ¶5). Realizing that Statoil ASA
would contest service, he attempted to locate agents within the United States
to serve Statoil ASA because service under the Hague Convention13 would be
time-consuming and expensive. (Id. ¶7). After determining that this could not
be accomplished, he spoke to the Clerk of Court in this district to find out
more information about serving Statoil ASA by mail. (Id. ¶9). Concluding this
would not be enough, Attorney Harnes hired a process server and retained
a company well versed in international service of process. (Id. ¶12). His
efforts to locate a company were delayed by the defendants’ motions to
The Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and
Extrajudicial Documents in Civil and Commercial Matters, Nov. 15, 1969, 20
U.S.T. 361, T.I.A.S. No. 6338.
dismiss. (Id.). Attorney Harnes did not state that the third-party service
company he hired has actually attempted or completed service.
Nothing in the affirmation suggests that there was an actual attempt to
serve Statoil ASA. It shows that Attorney Harnes engaged in research to
determine how service should be made and that he ultimately hired a process
server, but it does not show that there was any actual attempt to serve the
company. Attorney Harnes’ research regarding service is not enough.
Canfield’s complaint was filed on January 13, 2016 and, to date, there is no
indication in the docket or other indication from Canfield that service has been
completed. The court sees no justification for such a delay, even under the
most liberal reading of Rule 4(m). Without proper service, and without subjectmatter jurisdiction, the court lacks personal jurisdiction over Statoil ASA.14
Accordingly, Canfield’s tortious interference, civil conspiracy, unjust
enrichment, and accounting claims against Statoil ASA are dismissed with
Had Canfield asserted some plausible basis for the court to find that
Statoil ASA was the alter ego of SOP, the court would be more inclined to
allow Canfield’s claim to proceed at this stage. Service on a subsidiary is
effective to complete service on a parent corporation where the subsidiary is
the alter ego of the parent. United States ex rel. Thomas v. Siemens AG, 708
F. Supp. 2d 505, 519 (E.D. Pa. 2010); Akzona Inc. v. E.I. Du Pont De
Nemours & Co., 607 F. Supp. 227, 237 (D. Del. 1984). SOP waived service.
(See Doc. 14). However, as discussed in part III.B, supra, Canfield has not
asserted any facts, either in her complaint or her brief, to plausibly suggest
that SOP was the alter ego of Statoil ASA. Thus, SOP’s waiver is not
sufficient to find that Statoil ASA also waived service.
FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM
Standard of Review - Rule 12(b)(6)
Rule 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in
part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED.
R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). In reviewing such a motion, the court must “accept all
factual allegations as true, construe the [c]omplaint in the light most favorable
to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the
[c]omplaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Fleisher v. Standard Ins.
Co., 679 F.3d 116, 120 (3d Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). It is the moving party that bears the burden of showing that no claim
has been stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005).
Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all of the facts alleged in the
complaint as true, the plaintiff has failed to plead “enough facts to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 547 (2007). This “plausibility” determination is a “context-specific
task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and
common sense.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Ultimately, the
plaintiff must be able to “provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief,”
requiring more than bold-faced labels and conclusions. Phillips v. County of
Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (brackets and internal quotation
marks omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “[A] formulaic recitation
of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id.
The Third Circuit has announced a three-part inquiry to apply the
pleading principles announced in Iqbal and Twombly.
First, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff must
plead to state a claim. Second, the court should identify
allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are
not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, where there are
well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their
veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an
entitlement for relief.
Connelly v. Steel Valley Sch. Dist., 706 F.3d 209, 212 (3d Cir. 2013). Also,
the court should grant leave to amend a complaint before dismissing it as
merely deficient. See, e.g., Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete
Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir. 2007); Grayson v. Mayview
State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d
113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000). "Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only
on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility." Alston v.
Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).
In considering a motion to dismiss, the court generally relies on the
complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record. See Sands v.
McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may, however,
consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as
an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the
[attached] documents." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus.,
998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Moreover, "documents whose contents
are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but
which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered." Pryor
v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting 62
Fed. Proc., L. Ed., §62:508).
Breach of Contract and Accounting Claims Against SOP
Canfield’s complaint contains three separate breach of contract claims
against SOP, along with an accounting claim premised on the contract claims.
Canfield’s first claim against SOP alleges that SOP’s sale at the well using an
index price was a breach of the express terms of the royalty provision.
Canfield’s second claim also alleges a breach of the lease’s royalty provision
based on SOP’s sale to an affiliate entity, though Canfield does not clarify if
this allegation is based on express or implied terms in the lease. Canfield’s
fourth claim against SOP is based on an alleged breach of implied terms in
SOP argues that all of Canfield’s contract claims are barred by
Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations and that SOP has fully complied with the
terms of the lease, express and implied. SOP’s statute of limitations argument
fails at this time. Canfield’s fourth claim based on a breach of the implied duty
to market survives, along with her accounting claim, her seventh claim. Her
first and second claim against SOP will be dismissed with prejudice.
Statute of Limitations
Canfield’s breach of contract claims plausibly fall within Pennsylvania’s
statute of limitations. Under Pennsylvania law,15 “a lease is in the nature of a
contract and is controlled by principles of contract law.” T.W. Phillips Gas &
Oil Co. v. Jedlicka, 42 A.3d 261, 267 (Pa. 2012). A prima facie case for
breach of contract in Pennsylvania requires three elements: (1) the existence
of a contract, (2) breach of the duties imposed by the contract, and (3)
damages. Joyce v. Erie Ins. Exchange, 74 A.3d 157, 168 (Pa. Super. Ct.
2013). The limitations period for a breach of contract action in Pennsylvania
is four years. 42 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. §5525(a). “[This] statute of limitations
begins to run as soon as a right to institute and maintain suit arises.” Crouse
v. Cyclops Indus., 745 A.2d 606, 611 (Pa. 2000). When the right to institute
a suit arises is a legal question for the court. Id. at 611. In general, for a
breach of contract action, this date is based on the date that the breach
A district court sitting in diversity must apply the choice of law
principles of the forum state to determining the controlling law to be applied.
Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496–97 (1941);
Maniscalco v. Brother Int’l (USA) Corp., 709 F.3d 202, 206 (3d Cir. 2013).
“[U]nder Pennsylvania choice-of-law principles, the place having the most
interest in the problem and which is the most intimately concerned with the
outcome is the forum whose law should be applied.” In re Complaint of
Bankers Trust Co., 752 F.2d 874, 882 (3d Cir. 1984). Pennsylvania has the
greatest interest here as the place of the contracting of the lease, the place
of performance, and the place of the real property interest. Canfield’s lease
provides no alternative choice of law provision. Accordingly, the court applies
Pennsylvania law, including its statute of limitations. See Ross v. JohnsManville Corp., 766 F.2d 823, 826 (3d Cir. 1985).
occurs. S.T. Hudson Engineers, Inc. v. Camden Hotel Devel. Assoc., 747
A.2d 931, 934 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2000).
Pennsylvania also applies the discovery rule to breach of contract
actions, except those relating to the sale of goods. See, e.g., Morgan v.
Petroleum Prods. Equip. Co., 92 A.3d 823, 828 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2014); see
also 13 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. §2725(b). “The discovery rule is a judicially
created device which tolls the running of the applicable statute of limitations
until the point where the complaining party knows or reasonably should know
that he has been injured and that his injury has been caused by another
party’s conduct.” Crouse, 745 A.2d at 611. This inquiry is typically a question
of fact for a jury. Id. The court may determine this date as a matter of law only
where reasonable minds would not differ in finding that a plaintiff knew or
should have known of his or her injury and its cause on that particular date.
Fine v. Checcio, 870 A.2d 850, 858–59 (Pa. 2005).
The court cannot state at this time when the cause of action accrued for
purposes of the statute of limitations. Canfield’s complaint was filed on
January 15, 2016. SOP alleges that the statute of limitations had passed
based on the allegation in Canfield’s complaint that “beginning in or about
April 2010 . . . [SOP] began selling all of its production to [SNG]” at a unit
index price. (Doc. 1, ¶26). This date is the date of the alleged breach and the
date on which Canfield was entitled to sue. However, the court also finds it
plausible that the discovery rule should be applied to toll this initial date.
The April 2010 date in the complaint appears to have been provided by
the defendants and is likely not based on Canfield’s own knowledge. (Id. ¶26
n. 2). It is unlikely that Canfield knew of SOP’s private agreement with SNG
to use an index price. Instead, it is plausible that she would have been put on
notice of the breach at the time she noticed a reduced royalty payment as
compared to Chesapeake’s royalties. Canfield noticed a difference in the
royalties being paid to her in or around September 2013. (Id. ¶31). Thus, it is
plausible that the limitations period should be tolled to September 2013 or
shortly after, which would make Canfield’s January 2016 complaint timely.
This may be, ultimately, a fact question. After discovery, reasonable minds
may or may not differ as to whether or not Canfield should have noticed other
signs of the alleged breach earlier. At this stage, however, Canfield is entitled
to proceed with her claim as the face of the complaint suggests that the
discovery rule should be applied to toll the statute of limitations period.
It is also plausible that Canfield’s lease is divisible such that each
obligation to pay her royalties triggered a new statute of limitations period.
Where a contract is divisible, such as an installment contract, the limitations
period begins to run at each new breach. See Bush v. Stowell, 71 Pa. 208,
212 (1872); 14 Samuel Williston, A Treatise on the Law of Contracts §45:20
(Richard A. Lord ed., 4th ed. 1990) (hereinafter Williston on Contracts). “A
contract is divisible if one portion or segment of the contract is enforceable
independent from the other portions or segments.” Stone v. City of Phila., No.
86-1877, 1987 WL 8538, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 27, 1987). “[T]he parties’
performances must be apportionable into corresponding parts of part
performances and the corresponding pairs must be properly regarded as
agreed upon equivalents.” Id. (citing Producers’ Coke Co. v. Hillman, 90 A.
144, 145 (Pa. 1914)); see also RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS §240
(1981). Divisibility is also related to the doctrine of partial performance as it
is “a mitigating doctrine which reduces the risk of forfeiture” where a party has
partially performed an obligation under a contract. 15 Williston on Contracts
In Jacobs v. CNG Transmission Corp., 772 A.2d 445, 450 (Pa. 2001),
the Pennsylvania Supreme Court explained that it is the intention of the
parties that governs whether a contract is entire or severable. The severability
concept announced in Jacobs is a distinct, but interrelated concept to that of
divisibility. See 15 Williston on Contracts §45:1. In line with Jacobs, the
divisibility determination is also guided by the intention of the contracting
parties. Hillman, 90 A. at 145; see also Lutz v. Chesapeake Appalachia,
L.L.C., 717 F.3d 459, 466 (6th Cir. 2013); 15 Williston on Contracts §45:1.
Reviewing the SOP-Canfield lease, it is plausible that the royalty
provision is divisible. Other courts have found royalties to be owed under an
oil and gas lease to be divisible obligations subject to a new limitations period
with each payment. See, e.g., Lutz, 717 F.3d at 466–470 (6th Cir. 2013)
(collecting cases). No Pennsylvania court has addressed this specific issue.
However, in the event the discovery rule is not applicable or able to save
Canfield’s contract claims, Canfield may still be entitled to argue that the
parties intended the royalty obligation to be divisible such that each new
breach restarted the statute of limitations. If the obligations were divisible,
those breaches falling within the limitations period could then proceed. While
the court declines to rule on this novel issue now, Canfield may reassert this
argument at a later time if necessary.
Breach of Express Terms in the Lease
Canfield has not alleged a plausible claim for breach of the express
royalty provision in her lease. In her first claim for relief, Canfield alleges that
SOP breached the express terms of her royalty clause because SOP did not
base their royalty calculation on a “an actual market price” and, instead,
based their royalty calculation on a “published index price, whether or not
such index price [had] any relation to the actual market price conditions
pertinent to the gas in question and whether the Landowners’ gas was ever
transported to the Hub point where the index price was published.” (Doc. 1,
at ¶36). This argument assumes that either: (1) the lease required royalties
be based on a market price from a downstream sale (an “express market
price/downstream sale claim”) and/or (2) that SOP could not use an index
price unrelated to the location where the natural gas was eventually sold to
end-users (an “express index-price claim”). Having read the lease, the court
finds that SOP’s method of calculating royalties complied with the lease’s
express and unambiguous terms. Thus, Canfield’s first claim based on either
a market price/downstream sale theory or index-price theory must be
In Pennsylvania, a lease “must be construed in accordance with the
terms of the agreement as manifestly expressed, and ‘[t]he accepted and
plain meaning of the language used, rather than the silent intentions of the
contracting parties, determines the construction to be given the agreement.’”
Jedlicka, 42 A.3d at 267 (quoting J.K. Willison v. Consol. Coal Co., 637 A.2d
979, 982 (Pa. 1994)). Generally, a contract should be construed as a whole
and all of its parts and provisions should be given effect if possible. 16 SUMM.
PA. JUR. 2D Commercial Law §1:124 (2d ed.).
In addition, “[d]etermining the intention of the parties is a paramount
consideration in the interpretation of any contract.” Hutchinson v. Sunbeam
Coal Corp., 519 A.2d 385, 389 (Pa. 1986). In accordance with the first
principle, the intention of the parties should be determined based on the
language of the contract itself if that language is clear and unambiguous. Id.
at 390. If the language is ambiguous, “parol evidence is admissible to explain
or clarify or resolve that ambiguity, irrespective of whether the ambiguity is
created by the language of the instrument or by extrinsic or collateral
circumstance[—i.e., a latent or patent ambiguity].” Id. (quoting In re Herr
Estate, 191 A.2d 32, 34 (Pa. 1960)).
“A contract is ambiguous if it is reasonably susceptible of different
constructions and capable of being understood in more than one sense.” Id.
“[A]mbiguity in a written oil and gas lease is construed in favor of the lessor
and against the lessee.” Mason v. Range Resources-Appalachia LLC, 120 F.
Supp. 3d 425, 440 (W.D. Pa. 2015 ) (citing Jacobs v. CNG Transmission
Corp., 332 F. Supp. 2d 759, 773–74, n. 6 (W.D. Pa. 2004)). This rule only
applies where parol evidence fails to clarify the ambiguity. Id. Whether an
ambiguity exists is a question left for the court. Hutchinson, 519 A.2d at 390.
But, generally, the determination of the intent of the contracting parties based
on conflicting parol evidence is left to a jury. Id.
Canfield’s royalty provision unambiguously provides that her royalties
shall be calculated based on “the amount realized from the sale of gas at the
well.” (Doc. 1-2, at 1 ¶3). SOP argues that this expressly means that they
must calculate royalties based on the actual sale price at the well, irrespective
of whether or not this sale price is based on an index price. The court agrees
that SOP’s inter-affiliate sale to SNG at the physical location of the well
complied with the express lease terms.
The phrase “amount realized” in an oil and gas royalty clause has
acquired a technical meaning. “Technical terms and words of art are [to be]
given their technical meaning unless the context or a usage which is
applicable indicates a different meaning.” Fischer & Porter Co. v. Porter, 72
A.2d 98, 101 (Pa. 1950) (quoting RESTATEMENT (FIRST) OF CONTRACTS §235
(1932)) (alteration in original). In the oil and gas industry, the phrase amount
realized “is commonly viewed as synonymous with proceeds.” 8 Patrick H.
Martin & Bruce M. Kramer, Williams & Meyers, Oil and Gas Law, Manual of
Oil & Gas Terms A (LexisNexus Matthew Bender 2016) (hereinafter Williams
& Meyers)16 (citing Sondrol v. Placid Oil Co., 23 F.3d 1341, 1343 (8th Cir.
1994); see also Tana Oil & Gas Corp. v. Cernosek, 188 S.W.3d 354, 360
(Tex. App. 2006) (“The term ‘amount realized’ or ‘net proceeds’ has been
construed by Texas courts to mean the proceeds received from the sale of the
gas or oil.”). Proceeds is defined as “the money obtained by an actual sale.”
Williams & Meyers, Manual of Oil & Gas Terms P.
In comparison, “market value” refers to the value of the product in the
relevant market. Williams & Meyers, Manual of Oil & Gas Terms M. A
proceeds or amount realized royalty clause must be distinguished from a
market value royalty clause. See Sondrol, 23 F.3d at 1343; Exxon Corp. v.
Middleton, 613 S.W.2d 240, 245 (Tex. 1981). “Market value is the price a
willing seller obtains from a willing buyer.” Heritage Res., Inc. v. NationsBank,
939 S.W.2d 118, 122 (Tex. 1996). Market value is more difficult to determine
than a simple account of proceeds. There are two primary methods used to
determine market value, one uses the net-back method, but the best method
is based on comparable sales. NationsBank, 939 S.W.2d at 122; see also
Tex. Oil & Gas Corp. v. Vela, 429 S.W.2d 866, 872 (Tex. 1968).
The phrase “at the well” is “commonly understood to mean that the oil
and gas is to be valued in its unprocessed state as it comes to the surface at
As explained by the Third Circuit and the Western District of
Pennsylvania, Williams and Meyers, Oil and Gas Law and its Manual of Oil
and Gas Terms is “the foremost authoritative treatise on the law relating to oil
and gas.” Smith v. Steckman Ridge, LP, 590 F. App’x 189, 194 n. 5 (3d Cir.
2014) (quoting the district court). Pennsylvania courts frequently cite to and
rely on this treatise for guidance. Id.
the mouth of the well.” Williams & Meyers, Manual of Oil & Gas Terms A
(emphasis added). Thus, the phrase “at the well” relates to the proper
valuation of the natural gas product, but does not necessarily dictate where
the sale is to be made, the point of sale.
Canfield, in several instances, alleges that her lease required royalties
based on a “market price.” The court construes this to mean a sale within the
market—i.e., the downstream market—not market value. Canfield’s royalty
provision was clearly not a market value lease; it unambiguously provides that
royalties will be based on the amount realized from the sale of gas at the well,
or proceeds. If Canfield intended to convert her proceeds lease into a market
value lease, this would fail. The price paid by SNG to SOP at the well are the
proceeds SOP received for the sale of Canfield’s natural gas. There is no
allegation that SOP misrepresented the price paid by SNG. Thus, SOP’s
usage of the sale price to calculate royalties was clearly proper under the
Next, the court addresses whether the physical location of the sale was
proper. As explained above, “at the well” refers to value, not the point of sale.
Canfield’s lease does not indicate where the sale was to be made. The parties
could have made clear where the sale was to be made or clarified in the
royalty provision the method of calculation when the sale occurred at the well
versus downstream of the well. Cf. Hall v. CNX Gas Co., 137 A.3d 597, 599
(2016) (construing lease language that explained differing royalty calculations
when the gas was “sold or used beyond the well” and when gas was sold “at
the well”). The parties did not do this and, perhaps confusingly, Canfield is
now left with two lessees, SOP and Chesapeake, who have determined the
point of sale should be in different locations—one at the well and one
downstream. The court is not convinced that Chesapeake’s interpretation of
Canfield’s lease is proper and, instead, finds that SOP’s sale at the actual
location of the well complied with the lease’s royalty provision.
The court carefully reviewed the lease and could not find any language
indicating SOP’s sale to third-parties was required to be downstream. The
only indication in the lease that the parties might have intended a downstream
sale was found in language that was modified and superceded by the parties’
addendum to the lease. In addition to the “amount realized at the well”
language, Canfield’s royalty provision states that “‘[t]he amount realized from
the sale of gas at the well’ shall mean the amount realized from the sale of the
gas after deducting . . . post-production costs” and the clause authorizes the
lessee and/or its affiliates to provide post-production services. (Doc. 1-2, at
1 ¶3). Thus, the initial lease language utilized the net-back method of
calculating royalties based on a downstream sale to determine a wellhead
price. This suggested that the actual sale was to be made at some point
downstream and would verify Chesapeake’s usage of the net-back method.
In the superceding addendum attached and made part of the lease,
however, the lessee agreed that royalties would be paid without deductions
for either production or post-production costs incurred to make the natural gas
ready for sale or use. This provision states as follows:
Royalties shall be paid without deductions for the cost of
producing, gathering, storing, separating, treating, dehydrating,
compressing, transporting, or otherwise making the oil and/or gas
produced from the lease premises ready for sale or use.
(Id. at 4 ¶13). This ready for sale or use clause completely abrogated the
initial lease language discussing post-production costs. Thus, the final lease
provides for royalties to be calculated based on the amount realized at the
well and also provides that the lessee cannot deduct post-production costs.
The only way to construe the “at the well” language and ready for sale
or use clause together is to require a sale at the physical location of the well.
If the sale was to made downstream, as Canfield suggests, without
deductions for post-production costs, as the explicit lease language suggests,
then the resulting royalty could not be a wellhead price. This interpretation
would render the phrase “at the well” meaningless as this phrase indicates
royalties should be based on the wellhead value, not the value of the product
unambiguously require royalties calculated using the wellhead value, which
is determined based on an actual sale at the well. Where the lessee is selling
at the well, the lessee need not incur post-production costs and, therefore,
would not be forced to deduct these costs in defiance of the ready for sale or
use clause. The addendum language is redundant when the lessee is selling
at the well. This added language can be viewed, however, as mere
surplusage, without violating any of the lease terms. Cf. NationsBank, 939
S.W.2d 118, 122–23 (construing a market value, at the well clause and no
deductions clause as consistent with each other). This interpretation takes
into account all of the lease terms, complies with the express lease language,
and does not render any phrase meaningless. SOP’s interpretation was, thus,
proper. SOP, quite literally, complied with the lease terms when selling to
SNG at the well to arrive at a wellhead price. Accordingly, Canfield’s claim
based on an breach of the express terms of her lease based on a market
price/downstream sale theory must fail.
With respect to Canfield’s express index-price claim, there is no express
language in the contract to suggest that SOP was prohibited from using an
index price or that SOP’s usage of an index price was required to be tied to
the location where the natural gas was sold. The contract simply requires that
royalties be based on “the amount realized”—i.e., proceeds— and is entirely
silent with respect to how SOP must negotiate a price when selling to thirdparties. If such an obligation exists, it must be implied. Thus, SOP’s usage of
an index price is not an express breach of the contract and any express
index-price claim must fail as a distinct claim. SOP’s transaction, while distinct
from Chesapeake, complied with the literal terms of the lease. Accordingly,
Canfield’s first claim premised on a breach of the express terms of the royalty
provision must be dismissed with prejudice.
In her second claim for relief, Canfield alleges a breach of the lease
occurred based on SOP’s sale of natural gas to an affiliate because it was not
an arms’-length transaction (the “affiliate claim”). It is unclear if this claim was
intended to be a separate breach of contract claim based on an express term
or an implied term. Her claim does not state what term or phrase in the lease
SOP allegedly breached by engaging in an affiliate sale. If Canfield intended
to bring an express breach of contract claim based on the sale of gas to an
affiliate, this would fail.
The court has carefully reviewed the lease and can find no express
provision requiring SOP to make royalties based on an arms’-length sale or
a sale to a non-affiliate. Thus, SOP’s actions do not amount to breach of an
express obligation. If the parties intended to require sales to a non-affiliate
then they certainly could have agreed to do so expressly. See Trinity Valley
Sch. v. Chesapeake Operating, Inc., No. 3:13-cv-01082-k, 2015 WL 4945911,
at *4 (N.D. Tex. Aug. 19, 2015), vacated due to settlement, 2015 WL
9269774. Accordingly, Canfield has failed to assert a plausible express
affiliate claim and any such claim must be dismissed with prejudice.
With respect to an implied claim, Canfield’s fourth claim includes similar
allegations regarding affiliate sales, alleging that SOP’s sale to an affiliate
breached implied terms. Thus, if Canfield’s second claim was intended to be
interpreted as an implied breach claim, in addition to an express breach claim,
this allegation would be redundant. Accordingly, the court will dismiss
Canfield’s second claim with prejudice and will deal, separately, with the
alleged breach of implied obligations as stated in the fourth claim.
Breach of Implied Terms in the Lease
Canfield has asserted a plausible breach of contract claims based on
implied obligations. In her fourth claim for relief, Canfield asserts that SOP
had “an obligation to use reasonable best efforts to market the gas and
achieve the best price available” as well as an “implied duty of good faith and
fair dealing.” (Doc. 1, at ¶¶50–51). Canfield argues that these
obligations/duties were breached, again, because SOP sold the natural gas
extracted from her land to an affiliate (an “implied affiliate claim”) and at an
index price that was unconnected to comparable sales at the location of the
well (an “implied index-price claim”).
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is cited as the first court to recognize
implied covenants in oil and gas leases. See James W. Adams et al., Pa. Oil
& Gas Law & Practice §18.1, at 18-1 ( 2d ed. 2015). In Stoddard v. Emery, 18
A. 339 (Pa. 1889), the court found that an implied covenant to bore wells on
property existed in a lease, but that this implication would not dictate the
amount of wells required where that number was expressly fixed in the
contract. The court explained that “[h]ad there been nothing said in the
contract on the subject, there would of course have arisen an implication that
the property should be developed reasonably.” Id. at 442. This general
principle of implied covenants was recently restated, again in dicta, in a more
recent Pennsylvania Superior Court case as follows:
In the absence of an express provision, the law will imply an
agreement by the parties to a contract to do and perform those
things that according to reason and justice they should do in order
to carry out the purpose for which the contract was made and to
refrain from doing anything that would destroy or injure the other
party’s right to receive the fruits of the contract. Accordingly, a
promise to do an act necessary to carry our the contract must be
Katzin v. Central Appalachia Petroleum, 39 A.3d 307, 309 (Pa. Super. Ct.
2012) (quoting Daniel B. Van Campen Corp. v. Bldg. & Constr. Trades
Council of Phila. & Vicinity, 195 A.2d 134, 136–137 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1963)).
However, importantly, “[t]he law will not imply a different contract than that
which the parties have expressly adopted.” Hutchinson, 519 A.2d at 388.
Pennsylvania currently recognizes three implied covenants in oil and
gas leases: (1) an implied duty to reasonably develop the land; (2) an implied
duty to protect the land from drainage due to adjoining operations; and (3) an
implied duty to bring extracted gas to market. See Jacobs v. CNG
Transmission Corp., 772 A.2d 445, 244–45 (Pa. 2001); Kleppner v. Lemon,
35 A. 109 (Pa. 1896); Iams v. Carnegie Natural Gas Co., 45 A. 54, 55 (Pa.
1899); Pa. Oil & Gas Law & Practice §18.1, at 18-1. It is said that these
implied obligations rest on the general principle of cooperation between
contracting parties, which is similar to the implied duty of good faith in
contracts. Williams & Meyers, §802.1 at 6.1–10; see also Iams, 45 A. at 55
(describing the implied covenant to market as an “obligation to operate for the
common good of both parties”) (quoting Glasgow v. Chartiers Oil Co., 25 A.
232 (Pa. 1892)). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not addressed
whether an implied duty of good faith is imposed on all contracts or whether
it should be applied to oil and gas leases, specifically. See Ash v. Continental
Ins. Co., 932 A.2d 877, 883 n. 2 (Pa. 2007). Because Pennsylvania has not
expressly adopted the implied duty of good faith in an oil and gas lease as a
distinct claim, but has adopted other specific covenants, the court will analyze
Canfield’s claim under the implied duties recognized by the Pennsylvania
Moreover, the duty of good faith is premised on the same principle of
cooperation forming the foundation of the current, implied duties in oil and gas
leases. Williams & Meyers, §802.1, at 6.1–8. Some scholars have noted that
the standard of good faith implied in relational contracts and the standard
implied in oil and gas leases are the same. Id. at p. 12 (citing C. Meyers & S.
Crafton, The Covenant of Further Exploration—Thirty Years Later, 32 Rocky
Mt. Min. L. Inst. 1-1-, 1-22 (1986)). Some Pennsylvania case law suggests
this is true. See T.W. Phillips Gas & Oil Co. v. Jedlicka, 42 A.3d 261, 275–77
(Pa. 2012) (where a contract calls for production from a well only producing
“in paying quantities” the court must consider the good faith judgment of the
operator); Colgan v. Forest Oil Co., 45 A. 119, 121 (Pa. 1899) (applying a
subjective, good faith standard to the implied duty to develop land in stating
that the court’s “right to interference [with the operator’s decision to develop
or not develop wells on land] does not arise until it has been shown clearly
that he is not acting in good faith on business judgment, but fraudulently, with
intent to obtain a dishonest advantage over the other party to the contract.”).
While the two concepts may intertwine, it is likely that the Pennsylvania
Supreme Court would view them as distinct. This is so because, although
using “good faith” language in its earliest case law on the topic of implied
duties, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court also made clear that a lessor and
lessee in an oil and gas lease do not share a special or fiduciary relationship.
Colgan, 45 A. at 120.
There is no relation of special trust or confidence between the
lessor and lessee in oil or gas leases, any more than in any other.
Like all other contracting parties, they deal at arm’s length, each
with his own interest. So long as the question is one of business
judgment and management, the lessee is not bound to work
unprofitably to himself for the profit of the lessor; and the parties
must be left, as in other cases, to their own ways. It is only when
a manifestly fraudulent use of opportunities and control is shown
that courts are authorized to interfere.
Id. Thus, while there may be some instances where Pennsylvania court’s
impose a subjective standard that aligns more closely with the standard of
good faith and fair dealing, it is unlikely that this sets forth a separate,
cognizable claim under Pennsylvania law. Accordingly, Canfield’s implied
affiliate claim and implied index-price claim premised on a breach of a
generalized duty of good faith and fair dealing fails as a matter of law.
Next, Canfield asserts that her implied breach claim is based on the
implied duty to market, which is a cognizable claim under Pennsylvania law.
See Iams, 45 A. at 54–55. In Iams v. Carnegie Natural Gas Co., the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that where gas was obtained from the
lessor’s property in sufficient quantities, a landlord/tenant relationship was
established and the defendant lessee would be required to market the gas
found “but only at a reasonable profit[,]” taking into consideration “the distance
to market, the expense of marketing, and everything of that kind.” 45 A. at 54.
At that point, the lessee is “under an ‘obligation to operate for the good of both
parties, and to pay the rent or royalty reserved.’” Id. at 55 (quoting Glasgow,
25 A. at 232).
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s explanation of the lessee’s
marketing obligation in Iams, decided in 1899, could not have taken into
consideration the restructuring of the oil and gas industry in the 1980s and
1990s. See John S. Lowe, Defining the Royalty Obligation, 49 SMU L. REV.
223 (1996). Prior to this restructuring, producers extracted gas from the land
and sold it to pipelines at the well or in the field under long-term contracts; the
pipelines then sold to regulated, local distribution companies who served as
retailers under a price-regulated scheme. Id. at 224. Under this framework,
the lessee’s obligation was to find a buyer, a pipeline, if one could be found.
Today, pipelines are open-access transporters, not merchants; natural gas is
no longer price fixed; and markets are not fixed, they can be created by those
operating within the industry. See id.
Without recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court guidance, this court must
consider what Pennsylvania’s duty to market means in the current natural gas
context, if Canfield’s implied index-price claim or implied affiliate claim is
recognized under Pennsylvania law, and if the facts alleged state a plausible
claim. Where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not addressed an issue,
this court is guided by state intermediate appellate courts, other federal courts
applying Pennsylvania law, state supreme courts addressing the issue,
analogous decisions, dicta, scholarly work, and “any other reliable data
tending convincingly to show how the highest court of the state would decide
the issue at hand.” Mason, 120 F. Supp. 3d at 439 (quoting Spence v. ESAB
Grp., Inc., 623 F.3d 212, 216–217 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Norfolk S. Ry. Co.
v. Basell USA Inc., 512 F.3d 86, 92 (3d Cir. 2008)).
First, the court must address the scope of Iams after the Pennsylvania
Supreme Court’s decision in Kilmer v. Elexco Land Srvs., Inc., 990 A.2d 1147
(2010). In Kilmer, the court was tasked with interpreting Pennsylvania’s
Guaranteed Minimum Royalty Act (“GMRA”), 58 PA. STAT. §33, repealed and
replaced by Oil and Gas Lease Act, 58 PA. STAT. §33.1 et seq. (2013). The
GMRA imposed a statutory requirement that a lessee pay at least a one-eight
royalty to the landowner. The court specifically held that lease terms requiring
royalties to be paid after the deduction of post-production costs—usage of the
net-back method to calculate a wellhead price—did not violate the GRMA.
Kilmer, 990 A.2d at 1158. The court interpreted the term “royalty” in the
GMRA to be consistent with the industry standard that royalties bear postproduction costs. Id. at 1157.
Notably, one of the landowner/lessor arguments in Kilmer opposing this
interpretation was that the duty to market referenced in Iams imposed an
obligation on the lessee to bear all the costs to get the natural gas to the point
of sale. Id. at 1152–53. This is commonly referred to as the First Marketable
Product Doctrine and this doctrine has been adopted in a minority of states.
The court rejected this argument. Post-Kilmer, it is clear that Pennsylvania
does not follow the First Marketable Product Doctrine and that Pennsylvania
allows lessors and lessees to contract royalties based on a wellhead price.
See id. at 1158.
While the Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused to apply the
interpretation urged by the landowners in Kilmer based on Iams, the court did
not expressly overturn the Iams decision. As such, Iams remains good law,
but it may not be interpreted to impose a duty on the lessee to bring the
natural gas to its final point of sale. The court notes, however, that Kilmer will
not be extended beyond its reach. Kilmer was a statutory construction case;
it did not dictate how a lease would be construed or overturn the validity of all
implied duties. But, in line with Kilmer’s holding, this court will refrain from
looking to the laws of states that impose the First Marketable Product
Doctrine, such as Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas. See Kilmer, 990 A.2d
at 1152. These states impose a higher duty on the lessee and likely do not
accurately reflect how the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would apply the
current, implied duty to market.
The court must also address what standard of conduct should be
applied to the implied duty to market. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has
not clarified what standard should be applied to the lessee’s conduct in the
performance of his or her implied duty to market, and case suggests a mixture
of both the subjective standard—that of good faith—and an objective standard
or the reasonably prudent operator standard. James W. Adams et al., Pa. Oil
& Gas Law & Practice §18.1, at 18-1, 18-2; see also George A. Bibikos and
Jeffrey C. King, A Primer on Oil and Gas Law in the Marcellus Shale States,
4 TEX. J. OF OIL, GAS, & ENERGY L. 155, 173–76 (2008–2009). In Colgan v.
Forest Oil Co., the court imposed a subjective good faith standard on the
lessee when discussing what today is referred to as the implied duty to
reasonably develop the land for production. 45 A. at 119. In Kleppner v.
Lemon, addressing the same duty to develop the land by drilling wells, the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court applied a more objective standard to the
lessee’s conduct stating that “[w]hatever ordinary knowledge and care would
dictate as the proper thing to be done for the interest of both lessor and
lessee, under any given circumstances, is that which the law requires to be
done as an implied stipulation of the contract.” 35 A. at 109. This enunciation
is similar to that stated in Iams which directs courts, when assessing the
lessee’s duty to market, to take into consideration “the distance to market, the
expense of marketing, and everything of that kind.” 45 A. at 54.
More recently, however, in T.W. Phillips Gas & Oil Co. v. Jedlicka, 42
A.3d 261, 263 (Pa. 2012), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a lease
habendum clause that stated the term of the lease would be held so long as
the oil or gas produced “in paying quantities” would be construed in light of
the operator’s good faith judgment. The court’s analysis was neither purely
subjective or purely objective, but a mixture. Under Jedlicka, if a well
consistently pays a profit, an objective inquiry, it will be deemed to be
producing in paying quantities. Jedlicka, 42 A.3d at 276. Only where this
objective test is not met must the court resort to the operator’s good faith
judgment. Id. Although the issues surrounding habendum clauses and when
the lease terminates are distinct from the duty to market, there does appear
to be some theoretical overlap between in the two. Williams & Meyers, §854
at 396.3–396.6. In light of this, the mixed standard in Jedlicka would likely
apply to the implied duty to market. See also id. §856.3 at 415. Thus, the
court must assess objective factors, but may also consider whether the
lessee’s business judgment was exercised in good faith.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court also has not addressed the scope of
the implied duty to market in any recent decisions, but the court finds
adequate explanation of the duty in Texas Supreme Court decisions. Texas
is a majority state that does not impose the First Marketable Product Doctrine
and allows parties to calculate royalties based on a wellhead price. In
Yzaguirre v. KCS Resources, Inc., the Texas Supreme Court explained that
“[t]he implied covenant to reasonably market oil and gas serves to protect a
lessor from the lessee’s self-dealing or negligence.” Yzaguirre v. KCS Res.,
Inc., 53 S.W.3d 368, 374 (Tex. 2001). Accordingly, where the lease is silent,
the lessee has a duty to market the oil and gas reasonably. 53 S.W.3d at 373.
Where the lease is a proceeds lease, this obligation includes an “obligation
to obtain the best current price reasonably available.” Union Pacific Res. Grp.,
Inc. v. Hankins, 111 S.W.3d 69, 72 (Tex. 2003) (quoting Yzaguirre, 53 S.W.3d
at 374). This same protection is not needed in a lease requiring royalties
based on a market value. Id.
A central inquiry in determining whether the duty has been breached is
whether the transaction was a fraud or a sham, particularly where the
allegation is based on an inter-affiliate sale. Id. at 74. This list is not
exhaustive and the implied duty may extend beyond allegations of fraud or a
sham, however. See Occidental Permian Ltd. v. Helen Jones Found., 333
S.W.3d 392, 401 (Tex. App. 2011). The ultimate purpose of the duty is “to
protect a lessor from the lessee’s self-dealing or negligence.” Yzaguirre, 53
S.W.3d at 374. However, at no point does the implied duty convert the
proceeds clause into a market value clause as “[u]nder some circumstances,
a reasonable marketer may sell gas for more or less than market value.”
Hankins, 111 S.W.3d at 74.
Canfield’s implied breach claims are based on SOP’s usage of an indexprice and based on the inter-affiliate sale between SOP and SNG. Simple
allegations of one affiliate selling to another do not state a plausible claim for
breach of the implied duty to market. See Flanagan v. Chesapeake
Exploration, LLC, No. 3:15-CV-0222-B, 2015 WL 6736648, at *2–3 (N.D. Tex.
Nov. 4, 2015); see also Gottselig v. Energy Corp. of Am., No. 15-971, 2015
WL 5820771, at *6 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 5, 2015) (holding there is no obligation on
the part of the lessee to inform the lessee of the relationship between the
lessee and its marketing affiliate). Here, however, Canfield not only alleges
that SOP and SNG were affiliates, but that SOP used an index price to
calculate royalties. The court construes Canfield’s implied index-price claim
and affiliate claim as one claim implicating the implied duty to market. Her
claim is virtually identical to the claim made by Texas landowners in Union
Pacific Resources Group, Inc. v. Hankins. The Hankins action was also a
putative class action. 111 S.W.3d at 70. Though, ultimately, the Texas
Supreme Court found that the proposed class could not be certified, 111
S.W.3d at 75, notably, the action made it to the class certification stage.
In addition to alleging that SOP used an index price and sold to an
affiliate, Canfield alleges that SOP changed the hub for this index price
around September of 2013 from the Dominion South Point Hub near
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to the Tennessee Zone 4 “300 Leg” Hub. SOP does
not dispute this fact. At this stage, the court cannot conclude that the original
hub price or the changed hub price reflected “the best current price
reasonably available.” Hankins, 111 S.W.3d at 72. Under the standard of care
enunciated in Jedlicka, the court must assess objective factors, but also
consider the lessee’s good faith business judgment. The court has no
information to attempt to make that assessment at this stage.
Moreover, in several instances, Canfield suggests that SNG was a
“sham intermediary” and that the sale between SOP and SNG was a “sham
sale.” (Doc. 1, at ¶¶29, 46). A sham sale would suggest SOP and SNG were
one and the same. A sham sale would most certainly violate the implied duty
to market under either a reasonably prudent operator or a good faith
standard. See Hankins, 111 S.W.3d at 72; see also Texas Oil & Gas Corp.
v. Hagen, 683 S.W.2d 24 (Tex. App. 1984), dismissed as moot, 760 S.W.2d
960 (Tex. 1988). Canfield’s complaint contains no facts to indicate that there
was a sham sale between SOP and SNG by using similar allegations as those
in the veil piercing and alter ego context. SOP suggests that this is fatal. The
court disagrees. The court will assume the veracity of this allegation and allow
discovery to proceed. The “sham sale” allegation, when coupled with the interaffiliate nature of the sale and the fluctuating index price used by SOP, states
a plausible claim for breach of the implied duty to market. Thus, Canfield may
proceed with her fourth claim.
Because Canfield’s breach of contract claim as stated in her fourth
claim for relief survives, her accounting claim also survives at this stage.
Pennsylvania recognizes the right to a legal or equitable accounting in certain
circumstances. See Precision Indus. Equip. v. IPC Eagle, No. 14-3222, 2016
WL 192601, at *8–9 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 14, 2016). A legal accounting is not a
claim, but a demand for relief. See PA. R. CIV. P. 1021(a). It is incident to a
proper contract claim. Buczek v. First Nat’l Bank of Mifflintown, 531 A.2d
1122, 1123 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1987). Thus, a legal accounting requires a valid
contract, either express or implied, and a breach of that contract. Precision
Indus. Equip., 2016 WL 192601, at *8–9. It also requires that either:
the defendant received monies as agent, trustee or in any
other capacity whereby the relationship created by the
contract imposed a legal obligation upon the defendant to
account to the plaintiff for the monies received by the
. . . the relationship created by the contract between the
plaintiff and defendant created a legal duty upon the
defendant to account and the defendant failed to account
and the plaintiff is unable, by reason of the defendant’s
failure to account, to state the exact amount due him.
Id. at *8 (quoting Haft v. U.S. Steel Corp., 499 A.2d 676, 677–78 (Pa. Super.
Here, Canfield has alleged a plausible breach of contract claim based
on the implied duty to market and may be entitled to a legal accounting as an
equitable remedy.17 SOP had a contractual duty to obtain the best price
reasonably available in accordance with the implied duty to market. Having
found a plausible breach of contract claim, the court will allow Canfield’s
demand for an accounting to stand.
Canfield’s Remaining Claims Against SOP
Canfield’s remaining claims against SOP must be dismissed. In her fifth
claim for relief, Canfield alleges SOP was unjustly enriched. In her third claim
for relief, Canfield alleges that SOP, SNG, and Statoil ASA engaged in a civil
conspiracy. With respect to her unjust enrichment claim, the court agrees that
this claim, pleaded on an alternative theory of liability, is improper where no
party disputes the existence or applicability of the underlying contract, the
lease. Canfield’s civil conspiracy claim is barred by the gist of the action
doctrine. Thus, SOP’s motion to dismiss is granted with respect to these
claims and they are dismissed with prejudice.
Canfield’s complaint does not specify whether she seeks a legal or
equitable accounting. However, her brief in opposition suggests that she
seeks a legal accounting, specifically, not an equitable accounting. (See Doc.
40, at 50–51).
Under Pennsylvania law, the doctrine of unjust enrichment applies only
in the absence of a contract. Wilson Area Sch. Dist. v. Skepton, 895 A.2d
1250, 1254 (Pa. 2006). “[P]arties in contractual privity . . . are not entitled to
the remedies available under a judicially-imposed quasi-contract . . . because
the terms of their agreement (express or implied) define their respective
rights, duties, and expectations.” Id. (quoting Curley v. Allstate Ins. Co., 289
F. Supp. 2d 614, 620–21 (E.D. Pa. 2003)). While plaintiffs may plead unjust
enrichment as an alternative theory to breach of contract, they may do so only
where there is doubt as to the contract’s validity. Gottselig, 2015 WL
5820771, at *7; Montanez v. HSBC Mortg. Corp. (USA), 876 F. Supp. 2d 504,
516 (E.D. Pa. 2012); AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp. v. Allstate Healthcare,
LLC, No. 10-6087, 2011 WL 3241356, at *3 (E.D. Pa. July 29, 2011).
Here, there is no doubt regarding the validity of the lease between
Canfield and SOP. SOP does not dispute that it is obligated to perform under
the lease. Thus, the relationship between the parties is wholly defined by the
lease terms and the obligations imposed by those terms. Accordingly, the
unjust enrichment claim will be dismissed with prejudice.
Canfield’s civil conspiracy claim must also be dismissed. In
Pennsylvania, a civil conspiracy requires “two or more persons [who]
combined or agreed with intent to do an unlawful act by unlawful means.”
Thompson Coal Co. v. Pike Coal Co., 412 A.2d 466, 472 (Pa. 1979). It is a
claim premised on the existence of some underlying tort. Boyanowski v.
Capital Area Intermediate Unit, 215 F.3d 396, 405 (3d Cir. 2000). The only tort
action in Canfield’s complaint is tortious interference with a contract. This
claim was not asserted against SOP. If asserted against SOP, this claim
would, ultimately, be barred by Pennsylvania’s “gist of the action” doctrine.
The related civil conspiracy claim must also be barred by this doctrine.
The gist of the action doctrine “precludes plaintiffs from casting ordinary
breach of contract claims as tort claims.” McShea v. City of Phila., 995 A.2d
334, 339 (Pa. 2010). Thus, a court must determine whether a plaintiff’s
actions lie in tort or contract where an underlying contract exists. See Bruno
v. Erie Ins. Co., 106 A.3d 48, 68 (Pa. 2014). Only where the contract claim is
collateral to the tort claim will the tort claim be allowed to proceed. Egan v.
USI Mid-Atlantic, Inc., 92 A.3d 1, 18 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2014).
In this regard, the substance of the allegations comprising a claim
in a plaintiff's complaint are of paramount importance, and, thus,
the mere labeling by the plaintiff of a claim as being in tort, e.g.,
for negligence, is not controlling. If the facts of a particular claim
establish that the duty breached is one created by the parties by
the terms of their contract—i.e., a specific promise to do
something that a party would not ordinarily have been obligated
to do but for the existence of the contract—then the claim is to be
viewed as one for breach of contract. If, however, the facts
establish that the claim involves the defendant's violation of a
broader social duty owed to all individuals, which is imposed by
the law of torts and, hence, exists regardless of the contract, then
it must be regarded as a tort.
Bruno, 106 A.3d at 68 (internal citations omitted). The claim of tortious
interference against the contracting party is barred by this doctrine if it is not
independent of the contract claim. Alpart v. General Land Partners, Inc., 574
F. Supp. 2d 491, 505 (E.D. Pa. 2008).
The court has already determined that a valid breach of contract claim
exists against SOP. Canfield’s allegations against SOP all relate to the
alleged breach of the royalty provision in her oil and gas lease, including the
implied duties within that provision. Because Canfield’s claims all relate to
duties imposed by the lease, she cannot bring a tortious interference claim
based on these same allegations. Canfield appears to admit as much in her
brief in opposition. (See Doc. 40, at 45 n.15). It follows that she cannot bring
a civil conspiracy claim where that claim is entirely premised on the tortious
interference claim. If Canfield is precluded from bringing the tortious
interference claim, it logically follows that she is precluded from bringing the
related, tort-based civil conspiracy claim. This logic has even more force
where no actual tort claim has been asserted against the defendant. Cf.
Alpart, 574 F. Supp. 2d at 506 (allowing civil conspiracy claim to proceed only
against those defendants with corresponding tort claims).
If Canfield had alleged a fraud then the court would be more reluctant
to dismiss the civil conspiracy claim at this early stage. Cf. Telwell Inc. v.
Grandbridge Real Estate Capital, LLC, 143 A.3d 421, 429–430 (Pa. Super.
Ct. 2016) (finding it “far from clear” that the plaintiff’s fraudulently
misrepresentation claim was barred by the gist of the action doctrine based
on the complaint alone). The existence of a fraud claim would make the
court’s determination of whether the claim is truly in tort or contract more
difficult. See also Mendelsohn, Drucker & Assocs. v. Titan Atlas Mfg., Inc.,
885 F. Supp. 2d 767, 790 (E.D. Pa. 2012) (collecting cases and concluding
that plaintiff’s fraud claim was not barred by the gist of the action doctrine).
However, Canfield has not asserted a fraud claim. Thus, the court has no
trouble concluding that the action against SOP is truly based on a contract
theory, not a tort theory. Accordingly, Canfield’s civil conspiracy claim against
SOP will be dismissed with prejudice.
Canfield’s Claims Against SNG
SNG seeks dismissal of all of the claims against it in Canfield’s
complaint, which includes claims for tortious interference (the sixth claim), civil
conspiracy (the third claim), unjust enrichment (the fifth claim), and a claim for
an accounting (the seventh claim). In addition to other arguments, SNG
argues that all of Canfield’s allegations fail to state legally cognizable claims
against the entity. The court agrees that the claims against SNG are legally
deficient and should be dismissed.
Canfield has not alleged a plausible tortious interference claim against
SNG. A claim for tortious interference with an existing contractual relationship
requires the following four elements:
the existence of a contractual relationship between the
complainant and a third party;
an intent on the part of the defendant to harm the plaintiff by
interfering with that contractual relationship;
the absence of privilege or justification on the part of the
the occasioning of actual damages as a result of
Phillips v. Selig, 959 A.2d 420, 429 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2008) (citing RESTATEMENT
(SECOND) OF TORTS §766 (1979)); see also Adler, Barish, Daniels, Levin &
Creskoff v. Epstein, 393 A.2d 1175, 1183 (Pa. 1978). The second element is
sometimes stated as “purposeful action on the part of the defendant,
specifically intended to harm the existing relation.” Remick v. Manfredy, 238
F.3d 248, 263 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Pelagatti v. Cohen, 536 A.2d 1337, 1343
(Pa. Super. Ct. 1987). The second and third element of tortious interference
are interwined with the primary inquiry being whether or not the conduct was
proper. Corrections U.S.A. v. McNany, 892 F. Supp. 2d 626 (M.D. Pa. 2012).
Here, Canfield pleads that SNG “deliberately and without justification”
caused SOP to breach the oil and gas lease at issue. (Doc. 1, at ¶59). This
is a mere legal conclusion without any well-pleaded, factual allegations.
Canfield has not alleged what wrongful conduct or “interference” or
“purposeful action” SNG allegedly engaged in to “cause” the breach. The
comments to Section 766 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court has adopted, provide a non-exclusive list of
possible means of interference as follows:
There is no technical requirement as to the kind of conduct that
may result in interference with the third party's performance of the
contract. The interference is often by inducement. The
inducement may be any conduct conveying to the third person the
actor's desire to influence him not to deal with the other. Thus it
may be a simple request or persuasion exerting only moral
pressure. Or it may be a statement unaccompanied by any
specific request but having the same effect as if the request were
specifically made. Or it may be a threat by the actor of physical or
economic harm to the third person or to persons in whose welfare
he is interested. Or it may be the promise of a benefit to the third
person if he will refrain from dealing with the other.
[I]t is not necessary to show that the third party was induced to
break the contract. Interference with the third party's performance
may be by prevention of the performance, as by physical force, by
depriving him of the means of performance or by misdirecting the
performance, as by giving him the wrong orders or information.
RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS §766 cmt. k. (1979). At a minimum, the
conduct must be improper. Epstein, 393 A.2d at 431.
Here, Canfield has not made any allegations that plausibly lead this
court to find inducement, prevention of performance, or fraud or
misrepresentations made by SNG. While Canfield describes SNG’s conduct
as “wrongful,” (Doc. 1, at ¶59), she does not explain what constituted the
wrongful conduct. Cf. ClinMicro Immunology Center, LLC v. PrimeMed, P.C.,
No. , 2012 WL 3011698, at *7 (M.D. Pa. July 23, 2012) (dismissing tortious
interference claim where the plaintiff failed to allege any conduct on the part
of the defendant). The only conduct alleged is SNG’s purchase of natural gas
at an index price. Assuming that Canfield intends for this conduct to serve as
the interference, it is not plausible that this conduct, alone, was improper or
wrongful, therein satisfying the second and third element.
Conduct is proper where it has been “sanctioned by the rules of the
game which society has adopted.” Epstein, 393 A.2d at 1184 (internal
quotation marks omitted). Generally the court gives consideration to the
following factors to determine if conduct is improper: (1) the nature of the
actor’s conduct; (2) the actor’s motive; (3) the interests of the other with which
the actor’s conduct interferes; (4) the interests sought to be advanced by the
actor; (5) the proximity or remoteness of the actor’s conduct to the
interference; and (6) the relations between the parties. Id.
Here, it is not plausible that simply buying natural gas at a favorable
price and reselling that product for a profit is wrongful or improper. The buying
and selling of natural gas are normal business activities for those entities
marketing natural gas. The only motive alleged by Canfield is that of a profit
motive for the benefit of the SNG; a simple profit motive would be proper for
all corporate entities. There was no relationship between SNG and the
leaseholders that would impose a higher negotiating standard on SNG. There
is nothing in the complaint to suggest that SNG’s conduct in obtaining the
index-price deal with SOP was somehow improper, either through
misrepresentation or some other conduct. Thus, without more, Canfield’s
claim fails under the second and third element for tortious interference.
The court also finds that amendment to Canfield’s complaint would be
futile. See Alston, 363 F.3d at 236. Despite having been granted leave to file
a brief in opposition in excess of page limitations, Canfield did not directly
address SNG’s argument that her tort claim was deficient because it did not
allege improper conduct. (See Doc. 40, at 38). Instead, she cited to and relies
on a decision involving a fraud claim and related civil conspiracy claim, not a
tortious interference claim. See Strayer v. Bare, No. 3:06cv2068, 2008 WL
1924092 (M.D. Pa. April 28, 2008). This case does not save her tortious
interference claim. More importantly, in all of her briefing, Canfield did not
allege any conduct by SNG that this court might plausible construe as
wrongful. Like her complaint, the only conduct alleged was SNG’s purchase
and resale of natural gas. Thus, Canfield’s claim appears to be premised
entirely on this conduct and nothing else. This is not sufficient under
Pennsylvania law. Accordingly, her claim against SNG for tortious interference
with a contract will be dismissed with prejudice.
SNG also seeks dismissal of Canfield’s related, civil conspiracy claim
because she failed to plead an actionable underlying tort, among other
arguments. The court agrees. Having dismissed Canfield’s tortious
interference claim, the court must also dismiss her civil conspiracy claim.
Civil conspiracy is a claim premised on the existence of some
underlying tort. Boyanowski, 215 F.3d at 405. The only tort claim in Canfield’s
complaint is intentional interference with a contract. The court has dismissed
this claim with respect to Statoil ASA based on a lack of subject-matter and
personal jurisdiction. As discussed above, the court has found that Canfield
failed to allege an actionable tort against SNG. Canfield did not bring an
intentional interference claim against SOP, and rightly so. Accordingly, there
is no remaining tort claim and the civil conspiracy claim must be dismissed.
Canfield also has not alleged a plausible unjust enrichment claim
against SNG. “An action based on unjust enrichment is an action which
sounds in quasi-contract or contract implied in law.” Roethlein v. Portnoff Law
Assocs., Ltd., 81 A.3d 816, 825 n. 8 (Pa. 2013) (citing Schott v.
Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 259 A.2d 443, 448 (Pa. 1969)). It is an obligation
“created by law for reasons of justice.” Schott, 259 A.2d at 449. It is defined
as “the retention of a benefit conferred on another, without offering
compensation, in circumstances where compensation is reasonably expected,
and for which the beneficiary must make restitution.” Id. (quoting Am. &
Foreign Ins. Co. v. Jerry’s Sport Ctr., Inc., 2 A.3d 526, 593 n. 7 (Pa. 2010)).
The proper remedy for this claim is restitution. See id. (citing to RESTATEMENT
(FIRST) OF RESTITUTION §1 (1937)).
In accordance with its definition, a claim for unjust enrichment is
sometimes stated as requiring three elements: (1) a benefit conferred on the
defendant by the plaintiff; (2) an appreciation of such benefit by the
defendant; and (3) acceptance and retention of such benefit by the defendant
under such circumstances that it would be inequitable for the defendant to
retain the benefit without some payment of value. Stoeckinger v. Presidential
Fin. Corp. of Del. Valley, 948 A.2d 828, 833 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2008); AmeriPro
Search, Inc. v. Fleming Steel Co., 787 A.2d 988, 991 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2001);
see also RESTATEMENT (THIRD) OF RESTITUTION AND UNJUST ENRICHMENT §1
cmt. d (2011) (describing this formulation as “not helpful”). The most important
inquiry in this analysis is whether the enrichment was unjust. Id.; id.
SNG argues that there has been no benefit conferred on SNG by
Canfield. SNG also argues that there is no misleading behavior that would
justify shifting Canfield’s royalty losses due to SOP’s alleged conduct onto
SNG. This would mean that her claim fails under the traditional definition of
unjust enrichment and the first element of the restated three-part formulation
for unjust enrichment—the benefit conferred prong. The court agrees.
The First Restatement of Restitution provides as follows:
A person confers a benefit upon another if he gives to the other
possession of or some other interest in money, land, chattels, or
choses in action, performs services beneficial to or at the request
of the other, satisfies a debt or a duty of the other, or in any way
adds to the other's security or advantage. He confers a benefit not
only where he adds to the property of another, but also where he
saves the other from expense or loss. The word benefit, therefore,
denotes any form of advantage.
RESTATEMENT (FIRST) OF RESTITUTION §1 cmt. b. “A person who has conferred
a benefit upon another as the performance of a contract with a third person
is not entitled to restitution from the other merely because of the failure of
performance by the third person.” Id. §110 (cited with approval in Meehan v.
Cheltenham Twp., 189 A.2d 593, 596 (Pa. 1963)). An exception from this
principle will be made where there is some misleading behavior. D.A. Hill Co.
v. Cleveland Realty Investors, 573 A.2d 1005, 1009 (Pa. 1990); Meehan, 189
A.2d at 596; see also RESTATEMENT (FIRST)
RESTITUTION §110 cmt. a.
Thus, without misleading behavior, a plaintiff cannot shift his or her loss from
the breaching party to the party who indirectly benefitted from the breach.
Canfield did not confer a benefit on SNG. If SOP breached the lease as
Canfield alleges, then SOP retained a benefit from the breach in the form of
lower royalty payments to Canfield. SOP then transferred this benefit to SNG,
a transferee of the benefit. Canfield cannot shift the loss she suffered due to
SOP’s breach onto SNG in the absence of any misleading behavior from
SNG. Canfield has not alleged any misleading behavior from SNG in her
complaint. In her brief in opposition, Canfield did not directly address SNG’s
argument and simply concludes that SNG was unjustly enriched because the
“[d]efendants manipulated gas sales.” (Doc. 40, at 50). However, there is
nothing in the complaint or briefing to verify this characterization of SNG’s
conduct. There is no allegation that SNG induced or made misrepresentations
to SOP to use an index price. Again, Canfield attempts to impute the conduct
of SOP to SNG without justification. Without any misleading behavior, her
claim fails. Accordingly, the unjust enrichment claim against SNG will be
dismissed with prejudice.
Lastly, Canfield is not entitled to a legal accounting from SNG. There is
no contractual relationship between the two parties. See Precision Indus.
Equip., 2016 WL 192601, at *8–9. There is nothing in the complaint or brief
in opposition to suggest that Canfield requests an equitable accounting.
Canfield suggests the opposite.18 Thus, the court will not address this
See, supra n. 17.
argument and Canfield’s claim for a legal accounting against SNG will be
dismissed with prejudice.
In light of the above, SOP’s and Statoil ASA’s collective motion to
dismiss, (Doc. 31), is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The court
lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims against Statoil ASA and lacks
personal jurisdiction over Statoil ASA. Accordingly, the claims against Statoil
ASA are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE and Statoil ASA will be dismissed
as a party. Canfield’s first, second, third, fifth, and sixth claim for relief against
SOP are also DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Her fourth claim for relief
premised on an alleged breach of the implied duty to market survives.
Canfield may proceed with this claim.
Further, SNG’s motion to dismiss, (Doc. 25), is GRANTED in its entirety.
The claims against SNG are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE and SNG will
be dismissed as a party. An appropriate order shall follow.
s/ Malachy E. Mannion
MALACHY E. MANNION
United States District Judge
Dated: March 22, 2017
O:\Mannion\shared\MEMORANDA - DJ\CIVIL MEMORANDA\2016 MEMORANDA\16-0085-02v.2.wpd
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