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Graham v. Antero Resources Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

April 7, 2017

LUSCIOUS GRAHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTERO RESOURCES CORPORATION, a Delaware corporation, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR EXTENSION OF TIME TO COMPLETE DISCOVERY AND DENYING AS MOOT PENDING MOTIONS IN LIMINE

          FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Procedural History

         The plaintiff originally filed this civil action in the Circuit Court of Ritchie County, West Virginia. Thereafter, the defendant removed the action to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction. The plaintiff is Luscious Graham, who alleges that she owns a portion of the mineral rights underlying land known as the “Belle Unit” in Ritchie County, West Virginia. The defendant is Antero Resources Corporation, a Delaware corporation that engages in the drilling and production of oil and gas wells in West Virginia and other states. The defendant obtained the required permits and drilled three horizontal oil and gas wells on the Belle Unit: A.P.I. Nos. 47-085-10027 (“Belle Unit 1H”), 47-085-10028 (“Belle Unit 2H”), and 47-085-10029 (“Belle Unit 3H”).

         The plaintiff asserts two counts in her complaint. Count I of the complaint alleges that the defendant drilled the wells without the plaintiff's permission and thereby is liable for trespass. The plaintiff also claims in Count I that the defendant is liable for theft and conversion of her interest in the mineral rights because the defendant has produced and marketed petroleum from the wells without her consent. Count II of the complaint asserts that, after the defendant obtained the permits for drilling, the plaintiff signed three joint operating agreements (“JOAs”) under threats of litigation and without a meeting of the minds. The JOAs contemplate the defendant's working interest in the Belle Unit at 99.08314% and the plaintiff's working interest at 0.91686%. The plaintiff also asserts in Count II that the defendant has refused to provide her the accountings she requested after signing the JOAs.

         The defendant's answer asserts a counterclaim against the plaintiff. The counterclaim asks the Court to enter a declaration of the rights and obligations of the parties in the three Belle Unit wells under the plain language of the JOAs. Specifically, the counterclaim asks the Court to declare that the plaintiff is a Non-Consenting Party as to each well, that the plaintiff's mineral interest is leased to the defendant as to each well, and that the defendant has the right to operate each well according to the terms and conditions set forth in the respective JOAs. Accordingly, the counterclaim requests that the Court release and discharge the defendant from all liability relating to this dispute.

         The plaintiff filed a motion to remand on March 2, 2016, alleging a lack of diversity. The Court subsequently ordered limited discovery and supplemental briefing as to jurisdiction. The Court found that it had jurisdiction and denied the plaintiff's motion to remand on July 24, 2016.

         The defendant timely served its initial disclosures and then filed a motion to compel the plaintiff's initial disclosures. Magistrate Judge Michael John Aloi granted the defendant's motion to compel on September 22, 2016. On October 5, 2016, the defendant served discovery requests on the plaintiff, and the plaintiff did not serve any responses to those requests, which were due on November 7, 2016. The plaintiff did not serve any discovery requests on the defendant, and the discovery deadline was November 30, 2016. The plaintiff filed a motion to extend the time to complete discovery on November 22, 2016.

         At issue in this memorandum opinion are (1) the defendant's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 56); (2) the plaintiff's motion for extension of time to complete discovery (ECF No. 54); and (3) the defendant's motions in limine (ECF Nos. 66-73). For the reasons set forth below, the defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted, the plaintiff's motion for extension of time to complete discovery is denied, and the defendant's remaining motions in limine are denied as moot.

         II. Facts

         The parties have now filed the following documents that are at issue in this memorandum opinion and order: (1) the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 56); (2) the plaintiff filed a motion for extension of time to complete discovery (ECF No. 54); and (3) the defendant filed several motions in limine (ECF Nos. 66-73). The motion for summary judgment and motion for extension of time to complete discovery are discussed below. Regarding the motions in limine, those are discussed later in this memorandum opinion.

         A. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

         The defendant argues that this Court should grant its motion for summary judgment as to both Count I and Count II of the complaint. As to Count I, the defendant argues that the Court should grant the motion because it entered into the three JOAs with the plaintiff for each of the three wells on the Belle Unit. Specifically, the defendant argues that there was no trespass or conversion because the plaintiff agreed to lease her mineral rights to the defendant under the JOAs. The defendant further argues that the plaintiff defaulted on her working interest by failing to make payments under the JOAs and is now thus a Non-Consenting Party. The defendant asserts that, by signing the JOAs and electing to participate in the drilling operations, the plaintiff was obligated to advance her proportionate share of the costs of the operations. Because she failed to make the payments and is now a Non-Consenting Party, the defendant states that, under the terms of the JOAs, she is entitled only to a one-eighth royalty for her mineral interest, which is treated as leased to the defendant.

         As to Count II, the defendant argues that the plaintiff is not entitled to an accounting because she was deemed a Non-Consenting Party after defaulting on her share of the drilling costs. The defendants explains that, under the terms of the JOAs, a Non-Consenting Party is not entitled to receive information on the drilling operations. Lastly, the defendant argues that the Court should enter a declaration of the rights and obligations of the parties under the plain language of the JOAs as pled in the defendant's counterclaim.

         The plaintiff then filed her response in opposition. ECF No. 64. The plaintiff attached an affidavit to her response explaining that she has been able to conduct only limited discovery thus far because her child was killed in a shooting accident during the time discovery responses were due. She also states in the affidavit that she has since filed late responses and that she does not share the defendant's understanding of the terms of the JOAs. In the response in opposition, she argues that the facts of the case are as set forth in her complaint and the affidavit attached to the response, and that those facts are contrary to the facts set forth in the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff argues that the motion for summary judgment should be denied because of the parties' contrary statements of facts and because the defendant's argument centers around “blithe acceptance” of the terms of the JOAs.

         The defendant timely filed a reply. ECF No. 65. The defendant states in its reply that the plaintiff's response was not timely and that the plaintiff has also ignored other filing and scheduling order deadlines. The defendant further states that the plaintiff has not presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact. In support of that argument, the defendant notes that the plaintiff's answers to the defendant's requests for admission contain only a one-line blanket denial, which is insufficient as a matter of law and deems the matters asserted in the requests admitted and conclusively established. The defendant also cites case law in support of its argument that the plaintiff cannot undo her default admissions with her later untimely answers in part because they cannot be construed as a “motion” to withdraw the default admissions. Even if the Court were to construe the untimely answers as a motion to withdraw the deemed admissions, the defendant argues that the motion could not be granted because doing so would prejudice the defendant and not promote presentation of the merits.

         B. Plaintiff's Motion for Extension of Time to Complete Discovery

         The plaintiff filed her motion for extension of time to complete discovery on November 22, 2016. The discovery deadline set forth in the Court's scheduling order was November 30, 2016. The plaintiff argues that she has been unable to respond to the defendant's discovery requests for personal and logistic reasons. The plaintiff also states that the defendant had informally agreed to provide the plaintiff with certain discovery documents and did not do so in a satisfactory manner, which will require the plaintiff to obtain the requested information in a much more lengthy and time-consuming manner. Lastly, the plaintiff asserts that neither party will be able to adequately prepare for trial without an extension of the discovery deadlines.

         The defendant filed a response in opposition to the plaintiff's motion on December 5, 2016. The defendant argues that the plaintiff has not shown good cause to amend the scheduling order to extend discovery deadlines as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b)(4). The plaintiff cited three reasons for her motion to extend discovery deadlines. As to the plaintiff's first basis that she has been unable to respond to discovery requests for personal and logistic reasons, the defendant argues that the assertion fails to explain why the plaintiff did not request additional time sooner and also fails to specify what additional discovery is necessary and how long it will take. The defendant also argues that, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 36, the matters asserted in the defendant's requests for admission are deemed admitted and conclusively established.

         The plaintiff's second basis was that she and the defendant had an informal agreement to provide documents. To this basis, the defendant argues that it voluntarily provided the plaintiff with an accounting of the actual costs for the Belle Unit wells and the plaintiff never indicated that she was dissatisfied with the accounting or attempted to obtain additional discovery. The plaintiff's last basis for an extension of discovery deadlines is that neither party will be able to prepare adequately for trial without an extension. The defendant responds to this argument by stating that the plaintiff has not been able to point to a genuine issue of material fact for trial after several months of discovery and the plaintiff's admissions provide conclusive evidence that the defendant is entitled to summary judgment.

         The defendant also asserts that the plaintiff did not contact the defendant to determine three possible alternate deadlines before filing the motion as required by Local Rule of Civil Procedure 16.01(f)(1).

         III. Applicable Law

         A. Motion for ...


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