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Adams v. Eagle Road Oil LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

April 12, 2017

JAMES ADAMS, on behalf of himself and other Oklahoma citizens similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
EAGLE ROAD OIL LLC, CUMMINGS OIL COMPANY, and JOHN DOES 1 through 25, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CLAIRE V. EAGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Now before the Court are the following motions: Defendant Cummings Oil Company's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Class Action Petition and Opening Brief in Support (Dkt. # 12); Defendant Eagle Road Oil LLC's Motion to Dismiss with Brief in Support (Dkt. # 19); and plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Dkt. # 26). Plaintiff argues that the case was improperly removed on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, because the class action petition filed by plaintiff in state court expressly excluded any lands subject to federal Indian law and plaintiff alleged only state law claims. Defendant Cummings Oil Company (Cummings) responds that plaintiff's petition uses the term “tribal land, ” which is a term of art under federal Indian law, and plaintiff's class definition fails to exclude certain land that is subject to regulation by the federal government. Cummings and Eagle Road Oil LLC (Eagle Road) also argue that plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         I.

         Plaintiff James Adams filed this case on behalf of himself and other similarly situated citizens of Oklahoma who suffered damage to personal and real property from earthquakes allegedly caused by defendants' disposal of wastewater into injection wells. Dkt. # 3-1. The case was filed in Pawnee County District Court. Plaintiff alleged claims of absolute liability or ultrahazardous activity, negligence, private nuisance, and trespass under Oklahoma law. Plaintiff seeks class certification of his claims, and he identifies the proposed class as follows:

a) Citizens of Oklahoma;
b) owning a home or business in Pawnee County, Creek County or Noble County (hereafter, the “Class Area”);
c) during the dates of seismic activity within the Class Area between September 3, 2016 to present (the “Class Period”);
d) excluded from the Class are all Class member properties on exclusive federal and/or tribal land; and,
e) excluded from the Class are Defendants and their officers and directors, and the judge presiding over this action and his/her immediate family members.

Id. at 9.

         On December 21, 2016, Cummings filed a notice of removal, and the removal was based on federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Eagle Road consents to the removal of the case. Dkt. # 3, at 6. Cummings states there are “lands within the Class Area to which fee title is held by an Indian owner in his/her own name subject to restrictions against alienation, ” but these lands cannot reasonably be described as “exclusive federal and/or tribal land.” Id. at 4. Cummings cites the American Indian Agricultural Resource Management Act, 25 U.S.C. § 3713 (AIARMA), and states that federal courts have original jurisdiction over claims based on acts of trespass on “Indian agricultural lands” as that term is defined in AIARMA. Id. Defendants argue that the Court has federal question jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims to the extent that plaintiff has alleged a class-wide trespass claim that includes restricted lands held in fee title by an Indian owner, because plaintiff is seeking relief that can be granted under AIARMA. Id. at 5. Cummings also cites the National Indian Forest Management Act, 25 U.S.C. § 3106 (IFMA), and claims that the definition of “Indian forest land” includes restricted lands that are within the class definition in plaintiff's petition. Id. at 5-6.

         Cummings argues that plaintiff has failed to allege that its operation of any specific well caused an earthquake that damaged plaintiff's property, and plaintiff has not adequately alleged the causation element of any of his tort claims. Dkt. # 12, at 3-8. Cummings also argues that operating an injection well is not an ultrahazardous activity as a matter of law. Id. at 9-10. Eagle Road argues that plaintiff has not adequately alleged causation and that plaintiff has not plead his claims in compliance with federal pleading requirements. Dkt. # 19. Plaintiff has filed a motion to remand (Dkt. # 26) and asserts that this Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over this case.

         II.

         The Court will initially consider plaintiff's motion to remand, because plaintiff has challenged the Court's subject matter jurisdiction over this case. Plaintiff argues that his class action petition expressly excludes “any tribe or member of a tribe owning land in trust or with federal restriction” and, under the well pleaded complaint rule, plaintiff could structure his complaint to avoid asserting claims that would give rise to federal question jurisdiction. Cummings responds that the term “tribal land” is a term of art that does not include land owned by individual Indians in trust or ...


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