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Circuit Court rules in favor of utility

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed summary judgment in favor of a Louisville utility in a dispute as to whether landowners could eject the utility from their property after violating portions of the lease. The appellate judges also declined to certify a question to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Cedar Farm owns land along the Ohio River, which contains Indiana’s only antebellum plantation complex. The complex is on the National Register of Historic Places, and part of the land is considered a “classified forest” by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The property has various public uses.

Cedar Farm and Louisville Gas and Electric Co. have had leases for storing and extracting oil and natural gas from portions of the property since 1947. An amended lease in 1996 only allows termination at any time by LG&E, or if the utility fails to make timely payments to Cedar Farm. There is a specific provision that LG&E will pay for damages caused by its operations.

Cedar Farm filed a lawsuit claiming LG&E repeatedly breached the lease and its crews, or crews hired by it, caused damage to the property and even prevented the owners from access the land in December 2008. Cedar Farm wanted to evict LG&E, terminate the lease, and sought damages.

The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of LG&E on the ejectment claim, rejecting Cedar Farm’s arguments that lack of a clause regarding termination for the conduct committed by LG&E did not bar its ejectment action. Cedar Farms later dismissed its damages claim with prejudice so it could appeal the ejectment claim.

In Cedar Farm, Harrison County Inc. v. Louisville Gas and Electric Co., No. 10-2234, the 7th Circuit judges noted that under Indiana law, courts generally will enforce forfeiture or termination clauses in these kinds of leases before drilling begins, but after drilling begins courts are reluctant to enforce even explicit forfeiture provisions if damages can adequately compensate the lessor.

“But to survive summary judgment in this case and under this Lease, Cedar Farm needed to provide specific evidence in order to show a trier of fact the environmental impact of LG&E’s actions and why writing a check would be insufficient,” wrote Judge Ann Claire Williams. “An affidavit or other form of proof along these lines was necessary, and Cedar Farm did not submit, and does not argue it was prevented from submitting, such evidence to the district court.”

The federal appellate court also declined Cedar Farm’s request to certify a question to the Indiana Supreme Court – “whether Indiana would allow a lessor to terminate an oil-and-gas lease where recurring breaches of the lease threaten to inflict intangible, irreparable harm on the subject property.” Cedar Farm seeks to certify the question of whether the type of recurring damage alleged would suffice, which is not an appropriate question for certification, the judges held.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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