United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
CHARLES B. GOODWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 168). Plaintiffs have responded in
opposition (Doc. No. 176), and Defendants have replied (Doc.
No. 180). After carefully considering the parties'
arguments, the relevant authorities, and the evidentiary
materials submitted pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure, the Court determines that Defendants'
Motion should be granted.
lawsuit was filed by a putative class of property owners to
recover for damages allegedly sustained as a result of
pollutants emitted by the Blackwell Zinc Smelter in
Blackwell, Oklahoma. See Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 65).
The parties agree that the claims at issue are identical to
those asserted in an earlier class action filed in the
District Court of Kay County, Oklahoma. See Op. Br.
(Doc. No. 168) at 8, 15-19; Resp. Br. (Doc. No. 176) at 8-9,
The earlier lawsuit-styled Bob Coffey, et al. v.
Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., et al., No.
CJ-2008-68 (Kay Cty. Dist. Ct. filed Apr. 14, 2008) (the
“Coffey Litigation”)-was resolved by
settlement of the parties, which was converted to judgment on
March 26, 2012 (the “Coffey Judgment”).
See Ex. 4 to Op. Br. (Doc. No. 168-4). The parties
agree that the Coffey Judgment operates to bar the
claims asserted in this lawsuit with respect to any owners of
real property in the Class Area (defined below) who were not
excluded from the Coffey settlement
class. See Op. Br. at 8, 15-19; Resp.
Br. at 8-9, 13. The parties disagree, however, as to whether
certain Plaintiffs-namely, Bradley Snow, Keyra Soto, and
Sergio and Teresa Arteaga (collectively, “Remaining
Plaintiffs”)-are subject to that bar.
Mr. Snow and Ms. Soto, a class action judgment may preclude a
nonparty's subsequent civil claim when there is a
“substantive legal relationship” between a party
and the nonparty, such as “preceding and succeeding
owners of property.” Taylor v. Sturgell, 553
U.S. 880, 894 (2008) (alteration and internal quotation marks
omitted); see also Hooks v. Rocket Oil Co., 1942 OK
324, 191 Okla. 431, 130 P.2d 846, 847. Because Mr. Snow and
Ms. Soto each succeeded to property that was owned by a
member of the Coffey settlement class who was bound
by the Coffey Judgment, they are bound by the
the Arteagas, they are bound by the Coffey Judgment
because the state court in Coffey determined that
they were members of the Coffey settlement class.
This Court has no authority to disturb that adjudication.
judgment is a means of testing in advance of trial whether
the available evidence would permit a reasonable jury to find
in favor of the party asserting a claim. The Court must grant
summary judgment when “there is no genuine dispute as
to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “An
issue is ‘genuine' if there is sufficient evidence
on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve
the issue either way.” Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores,
Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998). “An
issue of fact is ‘material' if under the
substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition of
the claim.” Id.
that moves for summary judgment has the burden of showing
that the undisputed material facts require judgment as a
matter of law in its favor. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If the movant carries
this initial burden, the nonmovant must then “go beyond
the pleadings and ‘set forth specific facts' that
would be admissible in evidence in the event of trial from
which a rational trier of fact could find for the
nonmovant.” Adler, 144 F.3d at 671 (quoting
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The Court must then determine
“whether the evidence presents a sufficient
disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is
so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of
law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242,
251-52 (1986). Parties may establish the existence or
nonexistence of a material disputed fact by:
• citing to “depositions, documents,
electronically stored information, affidavits or
declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, interrogatory
answers, or other materials” in the record; or
• demonstrating “that the materials cited do not
establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or
that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to
support the fact.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A)-(B). While the Court views the
evidence and the inferences drawn from the record in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party, see
Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Pittsburg, Inc. v.
PepsiCo, Inc., 431 F.3d 1241, 1255 (10th Cir. 2005),
“[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in
support of the [nonmovant's] position will be
insufficient; there must be evidence on which the [trier of
fact] could reasonably find for the [nonmovant].”
Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252.
of Undisputed Facts
The Coffey Litigation
Coffey Judgment defines the “Settlement
Class” to include all persons who, as of December 19,
2011, owned real property within a geographical boundary
defined as the “Class Area.” Ex. 4 to Op. Br.
(Doc. No. 168-4) at 9-10. Putative class members were
afforded an opportunity to “opt out” of the
Settlement Class by submitting a written request for
exclusion to a court-appointed “Settlement
Administrator” on or before February 17, 2012.
See Ex. 3 to Op. Br. (Doc. No. 168-3) at 12-13. As
of March 12, 2012, the Settlement Administrator had received
opt-out requests from 870 persons owning 819 properties
within the Class Area; however, 192 such forms were found to
be deficient. Ex. 4 to Op. Br. (Doc. No. 168-4) at 22-23. The
Coffey Judgment directed the Settlement
Administrator to review the deficient opt-out forms, work
with property owners to resolve curable deficiencies, and
submit a final opt-out list to the court at a later date.
Id. at 23-24. The Settlement Administrator was
further ordered to accept, from property owners who had
previously opted out, requests to rejoin the Settlement Class
during a six-month “opt-back-in” period.
Id. at 24. All owners of property within the Class
Area who did not submit a written request for exclusion were
“adjudged to be members of the Settlement Class”
and thus “bound by [the] Final Judgment . . . .”
November 9, 2012, the Settlement Administrator submitted a
preliminary opt-out list, along with an affidavit requesting
guidance from the state court regarding the status of certain
property owners whose requests for exclusion were deficient
in some respect. See Ex. 15 to Reply Br. (Doc. No.
180-2). The court supplied such guidance in an order issued
April 15, 2013. See Coffey, No. CJ-2008-68 (docket
entry of April 15, 2013). As relevant here, the court ruled:
• that “[t]he status of property owners within the
Class Area that both opted out and requested to be Class
Members [was to] be determined . . . based upon the last
timely-filed submission of intent received by the Settlement
Administrator, ” with no consideration to be given to
late filings; and
• that “[i]ndividuals or entities that own
multiple properties within the Class Area that opted out of
Class Membership with respect to some, but not all, of their
properties . . . are Class Members and are bound by the