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Ely v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 1, 2015

NOLEN SCOTT ELY, et al., Plaintiffs
CABOT OIL & GAS CORPORATION, et al., Defendants


MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. Background

This matter comes before the Court on a motion to certify as a final judgment a court order dismissing some, but not all of the plaintiffs' claims in this longstanding litigation. (Doc. 579.) This certification, if granted, would serve as the prelude to an appeal of this ruling, an action would introduce further extended delay into this longstanding litigation. Finding that certification is neither necessary nor appropriate here, for the reasons set forth below, we will deny this motion.

This lawsuit was initiated on more than five years ago, on November 19, 2009, by a group of 44 plaintiffs who collectively filed suit to recover damages for injuries and property damage allegedly suffered as the result of the defendants' natural gas drilling operations in Dimock Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Subsequent to this case being filed, a number of the plaintiffs reached settlement agreements with the defendants, and at this juncture only 10 plaintiffs remain in the case. Those remaining plaintiffs include Nolen Scott Ely and Monica L. Marta-Ely, individually, and as parents and natural guardians of their three minor children (the "Elys" or "Ely Family"); Nolen Scott Ely, as Executor for the Estate of Kenneth R. Ely ("Estate"); and Ray and Victoria Hubert, individually, and as the parents and natural guardians of one minor child, and a child who has since reached the age of majority, Angel Hubert ("Huberts") (collectively, "Plaintiffs").

The claims of the Plaintiffs were recently subject to multiple summary judgment motions filed by Defendants Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation ("Cabot") and GasSearch Drilling Services Corporation ("GDS") (collectively, "Defendants"). In these motions the Defendants sought summary judgment on an array of the Plaintiffs' claims including claims for breach of contract, fraudulent inducement, private nuisance, negligence and negligence per se, claims for medical monitoring, and alleged violations of a variety of Pennsylvania environmental laws, as well as claims alleging that the Defendants natural gas drilling activities, including hydraulic fracturing, constituted abnormally dangerous activities subject to strict liability under Pennsylvania law.

Upon a careful review of the parties' competing summary judgment submissions, we concluded that summary judgment was appropriate on all claims brought by the Ely estate. (Doc. 493.) As for the closely related, and factually intertwined individual claims of the Elys and Huberts we determined that these plaintiffs' breach of contract, fraudulent inducement, negligence per se, medical monitoring, Pennsylvania environmental law, and abnormally dangerous activities-strict liability claims should be dismissed. We found, however, that the remaining individual Plaintiffs' negligence and private nuisance claims presented disputed issues of fact which could only be resolved at trial. Therefore, we recommended that the motions for summary judgment be granted, in part, and denied, in part, as to the Elys and Huberts individually, a recommendation that was adopted by the district court.[1]

The Plaintiffs have now filed a motion asking that we certify the order denying the Ely estate claims as final pursuant to Rule 54(b) in order to permit an immediate appeal of that ruling. (Doc. 579.) The Defendants have opposed this request and this matter is now ripe for resolution.

For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that certification of this ruling is neither necessary nor appropriate, and would interject additional unwarranted delay into the litigation of these inextricably intertwined claims. Since we believe that the prompt resolution of all claims, followed by a consolidated appeal of the fully litigated claims is the preferable course for this litigation to follow, this request will be denied.

II. Discussion

Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that:

(b) Judgment on Multiple Claims or Involving Multiple Parties. When an action presents more than one claim for relief-whether as a claim, counterclaim, crossclaim, or third-party claim-or when multiple parties are involved, the court may direct entry of a final judgment as to one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay.

Fed. R. Civ. P., Rule 54(b).

Under Rule 54(b) "[t]he moving party bears the burden of demonstrating that a case is appropriate for certification Anthuis v. Colt. Indus. Operating Corp., 971 F.2d 999, 1003 (3d Cir.1992)." Wallace v. Powell, No. 3:09 CV 286, 2012 WL 642452, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 28, 2012).[2] In determining whether the plaintiffs have met this burden we are mindful of the fact that Rule 54(b) is "designed in an attempt to strike a balance between the undesirability of piecemeal appeals and the need for making review available at a time that best serves the needs of the parties.' Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Philadelphia Elec. Co., 521 F.2d 360, 363 (3d Cir.1975) (citations omitted)." Berckeley Inv. Grp., Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 202 (3d Cir. 2006). Therefore, decisions regarding certification under Rule 54(b) rest in the sound discretion of the court, although the "benchmark against [which] the District Court's exercise of discretion [is measured] whether that discretion was applied in the interest of sound judicial administration.' Curtiss-Wright Corp., 446 U.S. at 10, 100 S.Ct. 1460." Berckeley Inv. Grp., Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 202 (3d Cir. 2006).

This discretion is guided, however, by several basic principles. At the outset, it is well-settled that: A decision to certify a final decision under Rule 54(b) involves two separate findings: "(1) there has been a final judgment on the merits, i.e., an ultimate disposition on a cognizable claim for relief; and (2) there is no just reason for delay.' Curtiss-Wright Corp. v. General Elec. Co., 446 U.S. 1, 7-8, 100 S.Ct. 1460, 64 L.Ed.2d 1 (1980)." Berckeley Inv. Grp., Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 202 (3d Cir. 2006). Here, as to the Ely estate, we find that the district court's prior ruling granting summary judgment on all estate claims is a final judgment on the merits. Therefore, this first element seems satisfied with respect to these estate claims. Accordingly, we turn to the discretionary decision concerning ...

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