Bison Resources Corporation v. Antero Resources Corporation et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS MOTION TO DISMISS ANDSCHEDULING STATUS AND SCHEDULING CONFERENCE: ORDER denying 6 Motion to Dismiss for failure to State a Claim. ORDERED that the parties appear by counsel on April 5, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. in the chambers of Judge Frederick P.Stamp, Jr., Federal Building, 1125 Chapline Street, Wheeling, WestVirginia 26003. Signed by Senior Judge Frederick P. Stamp, Jr on 3/28/17. (jss)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA
BISON RESOURCES CORPORATION,
an Oklahoma limited liability company,
Civil Action No. 1:16CV107
ANTERO RESOURCES CORPORATION,
a Delaware corporation and
ANTERO RESOURCES APPALACHIAN CORPORATION,
a Delaware corporation and
predecessor-in-interest to defendant
Antero Resources Corporation,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DENYING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS AND
SCHEDULING STATUS AND SCHEDULING CONFERENCE
This is a dispute over the right to drill for natural gas
relating to a set of oil and gas leases.
The plaintiff, Bison
Resources Corporation (“Bison Resources”), claims it holds rights
of first refusal to drill relating to certain oil and gas leases.
The defendants, Antero Resources Corporation and Antero Resources
Appalachian Corporation (collectively “Antero”), allegedly drilled
wells on the subject properties without first presenting Bison
Resources with the opportunity to do so.
Antero filed a motion to
dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) and for nonjoinder of an indispensable party
nonjoinder issue, Antero seeks to withdraw its motion as to that
issue and asserts only that Bison Resources fails to state a claim,
transferrable to Bison Resources or violate the rule against
perpetuities and that Bison Resources should be judicially estopped
from asserting its claims in this civil action.
For the following
reasons, Antero’s motion to dismiss is denied.
In 1979 and 1980, Doran & Associates, Inc. (“Doran”) conveyed
to LaMaur Development Corporation (“LaMaur”) working interests in
previously drilled boreholes on a set of mineral leases, along with
“right[s] of first refusal to drill any additional wells which may
be drilled upon the oil and gas lease[s].”
These conveyances included the Hazel Ash lease, the Okey
ECF Nos. 28-1 at 1-2,
In 1993, LaMaur merged into Bison Resources, bringing
its interests in the subject leases with it.
In 2011, Antero purchased from Bison Interests, LLC (“Bison
Interests”), all its interests in the subject leases’ boreholes.
It is unclear at this time exactly what interests Bison Interests
held or how it obtained them. However, it appears that the parties
intended to drill deeper into the boreholes to reach the Marcellus
See ECF No. 27 at 4-5 (providing
shale underlying the properties.
defense counsel’s explanation of the leasing arrangements at oral
argument held on August 30, 2016). Bison Interests has since filed
a separate civil action against Antero in the Circuit Court for
Harrison County, West Virginia.
Circuit Court Civil Action No.
15-C-124-1. Bison Interests alleges that it accepted an offer from
Antero to purchase its interests in several oil and gas leases,
including the subject leases, in 2012.
Bison Interests alleges
that it reserved overriding royalty interests in those leases, and
that Antero has failed to pay royalties.
That litigation is
After purchasing Bison Interests’ stake in the subject leases,
Antero entered those properties, drilled new wells deeper into the
boreholes to reach the Marcellus shale, and began producing natural
Bison Resources then filed this civil action alleging that
Antero did not provide Bison Resources with prior notice before
drilling the new wells or offer Bison Resources an opportunity to
drill in accordance with its rights of first refusal.
Resources alleges claims for violation of its rights of first
refusal, trespass, conversion, and tortious interference with
Antero filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to
indispensable party under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)
and Rule 12(b)(7), arguing that Bison Resources is judicially
estopped from asserting its claims and that Bison Interests is
required to be joined under Rule 19.
On August 30, 2016, the
parties appeared before this Court for oral argument on the motion
At oral argument, this Court indicated that it was
inclined to deny Antero’s judicial estoppel-based argument for
dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6).
This Court then directed the
parties to file supplemental briefs regarding joinder of Bison
directed the parties to engage in limited discovery regarding Bison
Interests’ citizenship and other matters relevant to joinder of
Bison Interests under Rule 19. After completing limited discovery,
the parties filed a second set of supplemental briefs.
agree that joinder of Bison Interests is not feasible because it is
Antero seeks to withdraw its motion to dismiss as to
the nonjoinder of Bison Interests, and represents that, if this
Court denies its motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), it will
file a third-party complaint against Bison Interests for express
and implied indemnification and contribution.
Further, Antero now
argues that the complaint should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6)
because Bison Resources’ claimed rights of first refusal were
extinguished or are invalid under West Virginia law.
The parties agree that Bison
Colorado and of California.
California, and Antero is a citizen of
agree that joinder of Bison Interests
is not feasible.
Interests is a citizen of
Resources is a citizen of
Colorado. Thus, the parties
as a plaintiff or defendant
To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “a
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true,
to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
standard requires a plaintiff to articulate facts that, when
accepted as true, demonstrate that the plaintiff is plausibly
entitled to relief.
Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th
Cir. 2009) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).
“The plausibility standard is
not a probability requirement, but asks for more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”
DirectTV, 846 F.3d 757, 765 (4th Cir. 2017). “[C]ourts must accept
as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint
and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Id.
“[A] complaint is to be construed liberally so as to do substantial
Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).
Antero argues that the complaint should be dismissed because
Bison Resources’ claimed rights of first refusal were extinguished
or are invalid and because Bison Resources should be judicially
estopped from asserting its claims in this civil action.
discussed fully below, Antero seeks to withdraw its argument that
this case should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(7) for failure to
join Bison Interests.
Validity of the Rights of First Refusal
Antero argues in its first and second supplemental briefs that
transferrable or are invalid under the rule against perpetuities.
Bison Resources argues that Antero’s arguments should be stricken
because they are outside the scope of this Court’s orders directing
the parties to file their first and second sets of supplemental
While Antero’s arguments are beyond the scope of those
orders, Bison Resources has had an opportunity to respond to those
arguments, and this Court believes it is prepared to rule on the
Thus, this Court considers Antero’s arguments on this
LaMaur merged into Bison Resources in 1993. ECF No. 1-1 at 2.
Under California law, the state in which Bison Resources is
incorporated, “all of the rights and property” of LaMaur were
“succeed[ed], without other transfer,” to Bison Resources.
Corp. Code § 1107(a); see also id. § 1109 (providing that upon
merger the dissolving entities’ interests in realty “vest in the
surviving or consolidated party to the merger”).2
Thus, the rights
Similarly, West Virginia law provides that “[a]ll property
owned by, and every contract right possessed by, each corporation
. . . that merges into the survivor is vested in the survivor
of first refusal were assumed by Bison Resources by operation of
law when LaMaur merged into Bison Resources without transfer.
Further, under West Virginia law, contractual rights and property
interests are assignable unless precluded by law or by the parties’
See Smith v. Buege, 387 S.E.2d 109, 115-16 (W. Va.
1989) (citing Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 317); W. Va. Code
§ 36-1-9 (providing that property interests “may be lawfully
conveyed or devised”); Easley Coal Co. v. Brush Creek Coal Co., 112
S.E. 512, 514-15 (W. Va. 1922). Thus, the rights of first refusal,
whether contractual or property rights, were transferrable unless
the deeds clearly stated otherwise. The deeds were not required to
specifically provide for transferability or that they would be
assumed by any successor entity to LaMaur.
Antero relies on DWG Oil & Gas Acquisitions, LLC v. Southern
Country Farms, Inc., 796 S.E.2d 201 (W. Va. 2017), to argue that
the rights of first refusal conveyed by Doran to LaMaur were
transferrable only if the deeds expressly stated so. However, that
case provides that “to create an exception or reservation in a deed
which would reduce a grant in a conveyance . . . such exception or
reservation must be expressed in certain and definite language.”
Id. at 206 (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks omitted).
without reversion or impairment,” and that “[a]ll real property
located in the state owned by each corporation . . . that merges
into the survivor passes by operation of law.”
W. Va. Code
Here, Doran conveyed to LaMaur working interests in boreholes on
the subject leases along with rights of first refusal to drill new
The rights of first refusal are not reservations in the
grant, they are rights affirmatively granted to LaMaur.
these grants were expressed clearly, and DWG has no bearing on this
Relying on DWG and Allegheny Country Farms, Inc. v. Huffman,
787 S.E.2d 626 (W. Va. 2016), Antero argues that the rights of
first refusal were extinguished before Antero drilled on the
subject leases. In DWG, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals
concluded that reserved interests in an oil and gas lease are
extinguished when all interests in the oil and gas lease were
merged in one party.
Id. at 206-07.
In Huffman, the court
concluded that a right of first refusal to purchase realty was held
personally by a grantee and was extinguished when the property was
sold at auction and the grantee failed to exercise the right of
Id. at 633.
Antero does not argue that the rights
of first refusal were merged with all other interests in the
transferred to Bison Resources but were assumed by Bison Resources
upon its merger with LaMaur.
Accordingly, this Court finds that,
based on the allegations in the complaint, the rights of first
refusal were not extinguished by merger of interests in the subject
leases or by transfer.
Rule Against Perpetuities
Antero argues that the rights of first refusal are peremptory
rights relating to real property that are subject to the rule
Antero argues that if the rights of first
Thus, Antero argues that this Court must interpret
the assignment to avoid violating the rule against perpetuities,
resulting in non-transferable rights of first refusal.
an interpretation, Antero argues that the rights of first refusal
were held personally by LaMaur and that they dissolved when LaMaur
merged with Bison Resources.
Otherwise, Antero argues that the
The issue of whether rights of first refusal to drill on oil
and gas leases are subject to the rule against perpetuities appears
to be an issue of first impression under West Virginia law.
applicable state law does not definitively answer a legal issue,
the court must “make as educated a guess as possible” as to what
the applicable state law is.
Comprehensive Techs. Int’l, Inc. v.
Software Artisans, Inc., 3 F.3d 730, 741-42 (4th Cir. 1993),
vacated pursuant to settlement; see also Audler v. CBC Innovis
Inc., 519 F.3d 239, 248-49 (5th Cir. 2008) (“There are . . . no
definitive answers in Louisiana law to the questions presented.
Accordingly, this Court, applying state substantive law, must make
an educated ‘Erie guess’ as to how the Louisiana Supreme Court
would resolve the issues before us.”). Based on existing precedent
in West Virginia, this Court believes that if posed with this issue
the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals would hold that Bison
Resources’ rights of first refusal are not subject to the rule
West Virginia has adopted the Uniform Statutory Rule Against
Perpetuities, W. Va. Code § 36-1A-1 to 36-1A-8, abrogating the
state’s common law rule.
Id. § 36-1A-8.
However, the statutory
rule applies only prospectively to interests created after its
“requires that every executory limitation, in order to be valid, 
be so limited that it must necessarily vest, if at all, within a
life or lives in being, ten months and twenty-one years thereafter,
the period of gestation being allowed only in those cases in which
it is a factor.”
Smith v. VanVoorhis, 296 S.E.2d 851, 853 (W. Va.
1982) (internal quotation marks omitted).3
The West Virginia
Supreme Court of Appeals has held that rights of first refusal to
purchase a fee estate in realty are subject to the rule against
perpetuities as executory interests.
Smith, 296 S.E.2d at 853.
The statutory rule provides that “[a] nonvested property
interest is invalid unless . . . [w]hen the interest is created, it
is certain to vest or terminate no later than twenty-one years
after the death of an individual then alive or . . . [t]he
interest either vests or terminates within ninety years after its
creation.” W. Va. Code § 36-1A-1(a).
However, the court has held that “the rule against perpetuities
relates solely to the vesting of estates and is not concerned with
their possession or enjoyment.”
West Virginia-Pittsburgh Coal Co.
v. Strong, 42 S.E.2d 46, 52 (W. Va. 1947).
Further, a deed may
convey “a present fixed right of future enjoyment . . ., although
the right of enjoyment may not be exercised immediately.”
Bailey, 159 S.E. 524, 527 (W. Va. 1931).
In Post v. Bailey, 159 S.E. 524 (W. Va. 1931), the West
Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals considered a mineral lease
conveying title to coal under the property along with incidental
surface rights to extract and transport that coal.
Id. at 524.
structures and improvements on the surface in furtherance of its
incidental surface rights if it paid the surface owner $40 per acre
occupied or improved.
Id. at 526.
The court concluded that this
option to build structures and improvements was not subject to the
rule against perpetuities. Id. at 526-27. The court distinguished
contingent property interests from options for the manner in which
a property interest is enjoyed, noting that the rule against
perpetuities “relates solely to the vesting of estates or interests
and is not concerned with their possession or enjoyment.”
527 (internal quotation marks omitted).
Specifically, the court
distinguished the case from one in which a coal lease included an
option for the lessee to purchase the surface property, concluding
perpetuities unlike the option involved in Post.
Id.; see also
Strong, 42 S.E.2d at 50-52 (concluding that an option in a coal
lease to purchase the surface was subject to the rule against
perpetuities and distinguishing Post).
The court concluded that
the lessee had a vested interest in the use and enjoyment of the
surface incident to its subsurface rights, and that the option
provision affected only the manner in which those rights may be
Post, 159 S.E. at 527.
This case is analogous to Post.
The subject leases conveyed
a vested interest in Doran to drill and extract oil and gas from
the subject leases.
Doran conveyed a present vested interest in
the existing boreholes and created an option regarding LaMaur’s
right to exercise Doran’s vested right to drill new wells.
rights of first refusal are not property interests themselves, but
are agreements as to the manner in which vested interests may be
Thus, this Court believes that, if presented with this
issue, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals would hold that
rights of first refusal to drill contained in the subject leases
are not subject to the rule against perpetuities.
this Court need not interpret the rights of first refusal to be
Taking the complaint’s allegations as true,
Bison Resources holds rights of first refusal to drill new wells on
the subject leases.
Antero argues that the complaint should be dismissed because
position inconsistent with Bison Interests’ stated position in the
pending state action between Bison Interests and Antero.
argues that Bison Interests’ statements should be attributed to
Bison Resources because the entities are in privity of interest.
At oral argument, this Court indicated to the parties that it was
inclined to deny Antero’s motion on this ground.
fully below, this Court’s pronounced order is now confirmed.
Judicial estoppel applies only if: (1) “the party sought to be
inconsistent with a stance taken in prior litigation”; (2) “the
prior inconsistent position . . . [was] accepted by the court”; and
(3) “the party against whom judicial estoppel is to be applied
. . . intentionally misled the court to gain unfair advantage.”
Zirkand v. Brown, 478 F.3d 634, 638 (4th Cir. 2007) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
Furthermore, “[t]he position at issue
must be one of fact as opposed to one of law or legal theory,” and
the “bad faith requirement is the ‘determinative factor.’”
First, Bison Resources has not taken a position that is
inconsistent with a stance it has taken in prior litigation.
pending state litigation between Bison Interests and Antero is not
“prior litigation,” but is currently pending and has not been
Further, any position Bison Interests has taken in that
litigation cannot be attributed to Bison Resources.
argues that judicial estoppel applies to a party in privity with a
party to prior litigation, Antero fails to demonstrate that Bison
Resources’ interests in this civil action are “so closely aligned
with the . . . interests [of Bison Interests] as to be its virtual
Mother’s Rest., Inc. v. Mama’s Pizza, Inc., 723
F.2d 1566, 1572 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (collecting cases); see also
Milton H. Greene Archives, Inc. v. Marilyn Monroe LLC, 692 F.3d
judicially estopped from taking a position inconsistent with that
taken by a non-party in privity of interest with the party).
Second, Bison Interests’ position regarding its conveyance to
Antero has not been accepted by the court in the state litigation
or by this Court.
Bison Interests merely alleges in its complaint
that it holds overriding royalty interests in the subject leases
and that it otherwise conveyed its interests in the subject leases,
among others, to Antero.
A court cannot be said to have adopted a
litigant’s factual allegations in the pleadings when the court has
made no factual findings or conclusions of law regarding the merits
of the case.
Finally, there is no indication that Bison Resources
is attempting to mislead this Court to gain an unfair advantage.
asserting its claims in this civil action.
The parties agree that Bison Interests is a citizen of
Colorado and California.
Because Antero is a citizen of Colorado,
and Bison Resources is a citizen of California, joinder of Bison
Interests as a plaintiff or a defendant would defeat diversity.
Thus, the parties agree that joinder of Bison Interests is not
feasible under Rule 19.
Based on this agreement, Antero asks to
withdraw its motion to dismiss as to the nonjoinder of Bison
Antero argues that it may implead Bison Interests as a thirdparty defendant within fourteen days of filing its answer.
intends to assert claims for express and implied indemnification
and contribution against Bison Interests.
It argues that this
Court would have supplemental jurisdiction over the third-party
claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).
Antero represents that if this
Court denies its motion to dismiss, it will file a third-party
complaint against Bison Interests. Bison Resources did not respond
to this proposal, noting that Antero has not yet filed a thirdparty complaint against Bison Interests.
If Antero impleads Bison Interests, its motion to dismiss for
nonjoinder will be mooted.
As discussed above, this Court is
denying Antero’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim
Antero’s motion to dismiss (ECF No. 6) is DENIED.
this Court believes it would be beneficial to hold a status and
scheduling conference to discuss the entry of a scheduling order.
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that the parties appear by counsel on
April 5, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. in the chambers of Judge Frederick P.
Stamp, Jr., Federal Building, 1125 Chapline Street, Wheeling, West
The parties are DIRECTED to meet and confer prior
to the status and scheduling conference to discuss a trial date,
along with other pretrial filing deadlines.
The Court will permit those out-of-town attorneys having their
offices further than forty (40) miles from the Wheeling point of
holding court to participate in the conference by telephone.
However, any such attorney shall advise the Court as soon as
possible prior to the conference of his or her intention to
participate by telephone and shall (1) inform all counsel of his or
her appearance by telephone; (2) confer with other out-of-town
attorneys to determine if they wish to appear by telephone; (3)
advise the Court of the name of the attorney who will initiate the
conference call and all such attorneys appearing by telephone; and
This Court notes that Antero may file a third-party complaint
against Bison Interests without leave of court. See Fed. R. Civ.
P. 14(a)(1); 12(a)(4)(A).
(4) initiate a timely conference telephone call with such attorneys
If the attorneys cannot reach agreement as to the
initiator of the call, the Court will make that determination.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
The Clerk is DIRECTED to transmit a copy of this memorandum
opinion and order to counsel of record herein.
March 28, 2017
/s/ Frederick P. Stamp, Jr.
FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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