Private Nuisance Claim Against Oil and Gas Company Headed to Trial

December 29, 2016
By Scott Fellmeth
Posted in Oil and Gas

Recently, District Judge A. Richard Caputo of the Middle District of Pennsylvania denied a motion for summary judgment in a case, which allowed a landowner to pursue a claim for nuisance against a driller for excess noise. See Tiongco v. Southwestern Energy Production Co., No. 14-cv-1405, 2016 WL 6039130 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 14, 2016).

The lawsuit arose in the summer of 2014 when the Landowner sued Southwestern Energy Production Company’s (“Southwestern”), who was drilling on her property. The Landowner claimed that Southwestern was being too loud and disruptive when drilling for resources.

The Landowner alleged that when she entered into the oil and gas lease with Southwestern, she was told that the company would not drill within five miles of her home. However, in 2011, Southwestern began drilling for natural gas about a quarter mile from her home, which, Landowner alleged, interfered with the use of her property. Notably, the Landowner, raised alpacas on her property and sold their hair, claimed Southwestern’s drilling activities interfered with the private enjoyment of her home and with her commercial activities.

In its Motion for Summary Judgment, Southwestern argued that the Landowner’s case should be dismissed because she did not have enough evidence to sustain her case, nor could she prove that the noise and light violations were “intentional,” which is a requirement for proving a private nuisance violation under Pennsylvania law.

Judge Caputo disagreed, and added that the area of intentionality in Pennsylvania law needs clarification. Specifically, Judge Caputo said “although it appears that Pennsylvania courts have not conducted an in-depth inquiry into what constitutes ‘intentional’ conduct in the context of private nuisance, some state courts, which have adopted the same Restatement sections governing private nuisance as Pennsylvania, have held that ‘intentionality’ refers to a defendant’s knowledge that its conduct was invading the use and enjoyment of one’s land.” Importantly, Judge Caputo rejected Southwestern Energy’s argument that the landowner needed to prove the company had violated local noise and light ordinances to proceed with her claim.

Tiongco v. Southwestern Energy Production Co., is an important case for landowners and the liability oil and gas companies may face as a result of their actions. If you are a landowner and have a question about the nuisance of an oil and gas company, please contact Trent A. Echard at techard@smgglaw.com or Scott A. Fellmeth at sfellmeth@smgglaw.com or (412) 281-5423. Trent is a Shareholder and Scott is an Associate at Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky in Pittsburgh. This post is provided for informational purposes only. Nothing in this post creates an attorney client relationship.