United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.
Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss without Prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2), filed by two (2) of the seven (7) adult plaintiffs in this matter: Bryanne Burton, individually and as a parent and natural guardian of M.B. and J.M., and Amanda Grondin, individually and as a parent and natural guardian of E.G. (collectively "Burton and Grondin") (Doc. 71). Burton and Grondin move to voluntarily dismiss all of their claims without prejudice. Also before the court are Defendants' Brief in Opposition to this motion (Doc. 73) and Plaintiffs' Reply Brief to the Brief in Opposition (Doc. 74). Defendants request that the motion be denied, or in the alternative, that the motion be granted on the condition that Burton and Grondin reimburse Defendants for costs incurred in defending against their claims up to this point. Because litigation has been ongoing for over two (2) years, the extensive costs and efforts expended by Defendants, the risk of expensive and duplicative litigation, and because Burton and Grondin do not offer any explanation for their desire to withdraw at this stage, dismissal of their claims without prejudice would be unfair to Defendants, and the motion will be denied. Should Burton and Grondin wish, they may file another motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") 41(a)(2) to request dismissal with prejudice.
A. Factual Background
The plaintiffs in the underlying action are seven (7) adults, and three (3) minor children. (Doc. 41, 3-4.) The plaintiffs who bring this instant motion are Bryanne Burton, along with her minor children M.B. and J.M., and Amanda Grondin, along with her minor child E.G. Defendants are WPX Energy Inc., the Williams Companies, Inc., and WPX Energy Appalachia, LLC, which all have their principal place of business at One Williams Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma. ( Id ., 5.) Defendants own, operate and conduct exploration of natural gas wells. ( Id., 6.) Plaintiffs allege that their property and drinking water was contaminated as a result of the defendants' natural gas operations.
Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that they were "adversely affected by Defendants' contamination of Plaintiffs' properties and persons with toxic, carcinogenic, and otherwise ultra-hazardous materials.... This caused Plaintiffs loss of use and enjoyment of their properties, loss of quality of life, emotional distress, and other damages." ( Id., 1-2.)
Plaintiffs Burton and Grondin now request to voluntarily dismiss their claims without prejudice because they "have no property interest in any land alleged to be impacted by contamination from Defendants' gas drilling, exploration, and production activities. Moreover, Burton and Grondin do not allege any personal injuries as a result of Defendants' activities." (Doc. 72, 3.) Burton and Grondin no longer want to participate in this litigation, and seek dismissal without prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2).
Defendants oppose the motion, because it would expose them "to the risk of excessive and duplicative litigation, because WPX has expended significant resources in defending this litigation and because Burton and Grondin do not have a justifiable reason for their late request." (Doc. 73, 2.) Defendants request that I deny the motion, or alternatively, grant the motion on the condition that Burton and Grondin reimburse WPX reasonable attorney's fees and costs in defending against their claims.
B. Procedural Background
On April 9, 2012, Plaintiffs initiated this action by filing the Complaint (Doc. 1). On August 13, 2013, I issued an order putting this case on the standard case management track, with fact discovery ending in March 2014 and expert discovery ending in September 2014 (Doc. 29).
On August 28, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a motion for temporary injunction and restraining order (Doc. 31) to restrain the defendants from removing or causing the removal of the alternative water supply from plaintiffs' property and from reconnecting the water well on this property to the existing pump in its present condition. This was withdrawn on or about September 5, 2013, when Defendants agreed not to take such action. (Doc. 39.)
On October 3, 2013, Plaintiffs amended the Complaint for the third and final time to include all defendants (Doc. 41). Defendants filed an answer on October 30 (Doc. 43).
On November 11, 2013, WPX Energy Appalachia, LLC filed a Motion to permit entry onto land for removal of equipment (Doc. 47). Plaintiffs filed a Brief in Opposition to this motion (Doc. 50). On November 27, 2013, following proceedings held before me, I granted this motion (Doc. 53).
On March 17, 2014, in response to a joint request, I amended the case management schedule so that fact discovery would end in June 2014, and expert discovery would end in November 2014. (Doc. 56.) On April 22, 2014, I conducted a telephone conference with the parties on a discovery matter. (Doc. 37.) On June 20, 2014, in response to a second joint request, I amended the case management schedule again so that fact discovery would end in October 2014 and ...