Legal

Tenth Circuit dismisses Donelson case due to insufficient standing

DENVER — The 10th Circuit Court has upheld the dismissal of a class action lawsuit against the Bureau of Indian Affairs and almost 30 Osage County oil and gas producers.

Citing a lack of clearly defined offensive final actions, a three-judge panel with the Denver-based appeals court issued an unpublished opinion on April 5 ruling that the class action spearheaded by Osage County landowners Martha Donelson and John Friend did not have sufficient standing and affirming the Northern District Court of Oklahoma’s March 2016 decision to dismiss.

Writing for the panel, Judge Carlos Lucero noted that the landowners did not explicitly state which federal actions they had sufficient legal standing to contest.

“Although the issuance of a lease generally qualifies as a final agency action…plaintiffs have failed to specify with any degree of clarity which agency actions they are seeking to challenge,” Judge Carlos Lucero wrote. “A district court presented with such vague statements cannot determine its jurisdiction.”

First filed in Osage County District Court in 2014 by Donelson, the lawsuit claimed that the Bureau of Indian Affairs flouted the National Environmental Policy Act for a generation by not requiring environmental assessments on each individual drilling lease. Instead, the BIA’s Osage Agency relied on a county-wide environmental assessment conducted in 1979.

Along with trespassing-related damages, the litigation sought to have all oil and gas leases in the county declared unlawful, which would have potentially shut down all Osage oil royalty income.

The lawsuit originally only named Devon Energy as a defendant but was eventually expanded to include the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and 27 oil and gas companies that had at least one lease, drilling permit or concession agreement in Osage County.