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Bison Resources Corp. v. Antero Resources Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

March 28, 2017

BISON RESOURCES CORPORATION, an Oklahoma limited liability company, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTERO RESOURCES CORPORATION, a Delaware corporation and ANTERO RESOURCES APPALACHIAN CORPORATION, a Delaware corporation and predecessor-in-interest to defendant Antero Resources Corporation, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS AND SCHEDULING STATUS AND SCHEDULING CONFERENCE

          FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         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 under Rule 12(b)(7). After limited discovery regarding the nonjoinder issue, Antero seeks to withdraw its motion as to that issue and asserts only that Bison Resources fails to state a claim, arguing that the rights of first refusal were either not 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.

         I. Background

         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].” ECF Nos. 28-1 at 1-2, 5-6, 13. These conveyances included the Hazel Ash lease, the Okey Clark lease, and the West lease (collectively “the subject leases”). 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 shale underlying the properties. See ECF No. 27 at 4-5 (providing 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 currently pending.

         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 gas. 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. Bison Resources alleges claims for violation of its rights of first refusal, trespass, conversion, and tortious interference with business interests.

         Antero filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim and failure to join Bison Interests as an 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 to dismiss. 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 Interests.

         Based upon the parties' supplemental briefs, this Court 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. They now agree that joinder of Bison Interests is not feasible because it is nondiverse.[1] 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.

         II. Applicable Law

         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). This plausibility 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.” Hall v. 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 justice.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. Discussion

         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. As 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.

         A. Validity of the Rights of First Refusal

         Antero argues in its first and second supplemental briefs that Bison Resources' claimed rights of first refusal were non-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 briefs. While Antero's arguments are beyond the scope of those orders, Bison Resources has had an opportunity to respond to ...


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