WHEELING – A lawsuit alleging Chesapeake Appalachia damaged the property on which it was drilling will be heard in a state court.
U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp ruled Feb. 5 that Chesapeake did not prove that the amount in question in the lawsuit exceeded $75,000, a threshold that allows cases to be heard in federal court.
Plaintiffs David and Sara Dent, of Ohio County, offered to settle their claims for $74,999.
“In the notice of removal and the defendants’ response to the plaintiffs’ motion for remand, the defendants simply restate the damages claimed by the plaintiffs, and make conclusory assertions that, based upon these claims, the amount in controversy must be more than $75,000,” Stamp wrote.
“However, the defendants have provided this court with no evidence to support these conclusions, and this court can find nothing in the record through an independent investigation which could inform the court as to the amount in controversy in this case.”
Chesapeake also alleged Robert Dobkin was only added as a defendant because he is a West Virginia resident, which allowed the Dents to file their case in state court. Trumbull Corporation is also a defendant.
Chesapeake has a lease to drill on the property of Dale and Agnes Hall, which is directly across the road from the Dents’ property.
The Dents say the defendants’ practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on the Hall property has damaged their property.
Dobkin is a field representative for Chesapeake, which argues it would be liable for any mistakes he made.
Stamp looked to a 2011 case against Chesapeake Energy Corp. that found a field representative was fraudulently joined to a civil action because no claims were asserted against him.
However, that case was “factually dissimilar” to the Dents’ case, Stamp wrote. He said the case was over a contract, while the Dents’ case is rooted entirely in tort.
The Dents alleged Dobkin unlawfully and improperly drove on their property and caused damage.
“While this court recognizes that the plaintiffs assert in their complaint that Chesapeake could be liable for Defendant Dobkin’s conduct asserted in the complaint, this in no way indicates that Defendant Dobkin cannot also be held personally liable for the conduct alleged,” Stamp wrote.
Chesapeake was ordered to pay a $600,000 fine in December by Stamp over violations of the Clean Water Act. The conduct occurred during natural gas drilling activity in Wetzel County.
Chesapeake Appalachia is a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy. It was formerly known as Columbia Natural Resources.
From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at email@example.com.