JON C. HILDEBRAND AND ELLEN L. HILDEBRAND, HIS WIFE Appellants
EQT PRODUCTION COMPANY; EQUITRANS, L.P., BRYAN A. LONG AND COURTNEY R. LONG, HIS WIFE, AND MAX W. SCHINKOVEC Appellees
from the Order entered June 24, 2016 In the Court of Common
Pleas of Greene County Civil Division at No: 922 AD 2012.
BEFORE: OLSON, STABILE, and STRASSBURGER, JJ.[*]
Jon C. Hildebrand and Ellen L. Hildebrand (together
"Hildebrand" or "Appellants"), appeal
from the order entered on June 24, 2016 in the Court of
Common Pleas of Greene County, granting summary judgment in
favor of Max Schinkovec ("Schinkovec") and EQT
Production Company and Equitrans, L.P. (together
"EQT") in this declaratory judgment action
involving oil and gas leases. The trial court's June 24,
2016 order was based in significant part on two prior orders
and opinions from the same court dated May 20, 2014 (denying
Appellants' motion for summary judgment) and January 29,
2015 (granting summary judgment in favor of Schinkovec and
EQT and dismissing Counts I and II of Appellants' three-
count complaint). The claims against Appellees, Bryan A.
Long and Courtney R. Long (together "Long"), were
also dismissed by virtue of the trial court's orders.
Following considered review, we reverse and remand.
appeal from the grant of summary judgment, Appellants present
five issues for our consideration:
1. Did the Honorable Trial Judges err as a matter of law or
abuse their discretion in concluding that the Lease
Modifications amended and nullified the Non-Apportionment
Language contained in the Hupp Lease, thereby essentially
converting it into an "apportionment lease, " by in
particular, failing to interpret Paragraph 5 of the
Hildebrand Modification as a "lesser interest
clause" and instead requiring that production royalties
generated from the Hupp lease be paid to all owners of the
oil and gas interests encumbered by the Hupp Lease in
proportion of their interests?
2. Did the Honorable Trial Judges err as a matter of law or
abuse their discretion by holding that the Lease
Modifications nullified/amended the Non-Apportionment
Language contained in the Hupp lease given that the Long and
Schinkovec Modifications did not contain language similar to
Paragraph 5 of the Hildebrand Modification?
3. Did the Honorable Trial Judges, particularly Judge Nalitz
pursuant to his misunderstanding of the makeup of the Unit
and the nature of the Hildebrands' claims, err as a
matter of law or abuse their discretion in concluding that
the Lease Modifications amended the Non-Apportionment
Language contained in the Hupp Lease and required a share of
the production royalties to be apportioned to Schinkovec,
given that the Schinkovec oil and gas tract was not, and has
not ever been "pooled" in the Unit?
4. Did the Honorable Trial Judges err as a matter of law or
abuse their discretion in granting EQT and Schinkovec's
Motions for Partial Summary Judgment on the basis of the law
of the case doctrine and Judge Nalitz's flawed Opinion
and Order of May 24, 2010?
5. Upon ruling that the Lease Modifications amended and
nullified the Non-Apportionment Language contained in the
Hupp Lease, did the Honorable Trial Judges err as a matter of
law or abuse their discretion by applying Pennsylvania's
"apportionment rule, " as stated in Wettengel
v. Gormley, 28 A. 934 (Pa. 1894), to the subject
horizontal wells drilled by EQT?
Brief at 8-10. Because Appellants' issues are
interrelated, we shall consider them together.
Court has recognized:
When reviewing a trial court's grant of summary judgment,
our standard and scope of review are as follows:
Our scope of review is plenary, and our standard of review is
the same as that applied by the trial court. Our Supreme
Court has stated the applicable standard of review as
follows: An appellate court may reverse the entry of a
summary judgment only where it finds that the lower court
erred in concluding that the matter presented no genuine
issue as to any material fact and that it is clear that the
moving party was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.
In making this assessment, we view the record in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party, and all doubts as to
the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be
resolved against the moving party. As our inquiry involves
solely questions of law, our review is de novo.
Reinoso v. Heritage Warminster SPE, LLC, 108 A.3d
80, 84 (Pa. Super. 2015) (en banc) (additional
citations omitted). With respect to the denial of summary
judgment, "[w]e review the trial court's denial of
summary judgment for an abuse of discretion or error of
law." Ramsay v. Pierre, 822 A.2d 85, 90 (Pa.
Birdie Associates, L.P. v. CNX Gas Company, LLC, 149
A.3d 367, 371 (Pa. Super. 2016) (quoting Bezjak v.
Diamond, 135 A.2d 623, 627 (Pa. 2016)).
parties do not suggest that there are issues of material fact
in dispute here. Rather, Appellants challenge the trial
court's interpretation of various leases and lease
modifications entered into between lessee EQT (and its
predecessor) and lessors Hildebrand, Schinkovec and
Long. The three lessors own neighboring properties that were
once owned by A.H. Hupp and Emma M. Hupp and were leased to
EQT in 1928 ("Hupp Lease"). Ultimately, Hildebrand
filed a declaratory judgment action asking the trial court to
declare that EQT had wrongly paid royalties to Schinkovec.
Hildebrand also requested an accounting to determine the sums
improperly paid or placed in a suspense account pending
resolution of the ...