A federal court has denied a request for class action status and dismissed the newest incarnation of litigation from William Fletcher and a group of Osage mineral estate shareholders regarding headright accounting over the years.
Citing rulings in previous related cases with Fletcher as the lead plaintiff, Judge Loren Smith with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued an 18-page decision on Dec. 7, granting a motion from the Department of Justice to dismiss the case.
In the decision, Judge Smith wrote that the 10th Circuit Court already addressed most of the group’s claims, thus making their request for monetary damages moot.
“As the parties engaged in fifteen years of litigation and appeals to the 10th Circuit on this issue, the court finds that plaintiffs had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the time period and scope of the accounting,” Smith wrote.
Fletcher and three other shareholders filed the four-count lawsuit in August 2019 with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, seeking $100 million in damages from the federal government due to shoddy bookkeeping and management of the mineral estate’s royalty payments.
Specifically, the group claimed that the federal government breached its trust responsibilities by overcharging shareholders for gross production tax payments to the state of Oklahoma, inaccurately reporting financial transfers involving headright funds and not providing regular accurate financial statements to headright owners.
According to the complaint, the federal government charged the maximum amount allowed for gross production tax on royalties, regardless of what the state’s actual rate was at the time.
The financial records at the heart of the complaint were made available to the four plaintiffs by a previous class action lawsuit brought forward by Osage shareholders.
Initially filed in 2002 as a voting rights case, Fletcher vs. United States alleged that the federal government mismanaged Osage headright owners’ oil and gas royalties and violated its trust responsibilities to those individuals by failing to account for its management of the Osage mineral estate, allowing headrights to be unlawfully transferred to non-Osages and by restricting participation in Osage elections to headright holders.