Team of Steptoe & Johnson Attorneys Counsel in Major Victory for Energy Clients in Eight-Day Jury Trial

Related Attorneys: J. Kevin West, John C. Ferrell

Published: March 14, 2024

COLUMBUS – Two Steptoe & Johnson PLLC attorneys were part of a defense team that secured a major victory in a high-stakes jury trial at the end of February. J. Kevin West and John Ferrell served as co-counsel for Pittsburgh-based EQT Corporation and Oklahoma City-based Gulfport Energy Corporation in the case, which asserted that the companies engaged in mineral trespassing in southeast Ohio.

The plaintiffs claimed that the Point Pleasant formation, located within the formation commonly known as the Utica Shale, was not included in their leases because it is a separate geological formation that lies below the Utica Shale. Seeking damages of $144 million for bad-faith trespass, the plaintiffs claimed the companies infringed on their property by drilling wells and converting natural gas without permission. In addition to bad-faith trespass claims, the plaintiffs sought punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

The defense argued that the Point Pleasant formation was included in what is commonly known as the Utica Shale because landowners, the media, the industry, and the general public were referring to Point Pleasant wells as “Utica Shale” wells at the time the leases were executed, continuing to the present day. West and Ferrell, along with co-counsel from Kirkland & Ellis LLP, showed the jury a multitude of newspaper articles, many of which the plaintiffs read at the time, using the term “Utica Shale” to refer to the Point Pleasant production.

The defense also elicited testimony from the lead negotiator for the landowner group who drafted the form, who testified that they always intended the leases to include the Point Pleasant formation.

The case was litigated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, involving eight witnesses for the plaintiffs and seven for the defense. After approximately four hours of deliberation the eight-person jury returned a total defense “no liability” verdict in which they found the leases granted to EQT Corp. and Gulfport Energy Corp. the rights to Point Pleasant.

About Steptoe & Johnson

Steptoe & Johnson PLLC is a law firm nationally recognized for its strengths in energy law with more than a century of know-how in the areas of business, labor and employment, and litigation. Steptoe & Johnson has over 400 lawyers and other professionals practicing in 18 offices in Colorado, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West Virginia. Visit and connect with us on X and LinkedIn.

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