Court Finds Arbitration Panel Did Not Exceed Powers or Manifestly Disregard the Law in Confirming Award in Dispute Over Leasing of Oil Lands
The case relates to an arbitration award entered in a dispute between affiliated oil exploration and marketing companies, on the one hand, and owners of land leased to the oil companies, on the other hand. The leases at issue authorized the exploration company to produce and sell any oil and natural gas found there. In exchange, the owners of the land would receive royalties calculated as a percentage of the proceeds attributable to the production from each well. The owners objected to the amount of the royalties paid by the exploration company, which were calculated based on the exploration company’s sales of the oil and gas to its affiliated marketing company, instead of based on the higher amounts for which the marketing company would sell the oil and gas downstream to third parties. The dispute went to an arbitration, which found that the owners failed to provide evidence that the oil sales between the affiliated companies were less than what would occur in an arms-length transaction. The panel found that the exploration company had legitimately transferred title to the oil and gas, and received sufficient consideration from the affiliated marketing company.
The owners petitioned the court to vacate the award, arguing that the arbitrators “exceeded their powers” and “effectively dispensed their own brand of industrial justice,” and that they “manifestly disregarded the law.” The court rejected both arguments, disagreeing that the arbitrators “ignored the central question” in dispute. According to the court, the panel found that (1) title was transferred to the marketing company; (2) the exploration company marketed the oil and gas as required; (3) the exploration company made “legally sufficient accounting entries on their books and records to evidence transfer of title and consideration paid for the oil and gas”; (4) the leases permitted the exploration company to sell to an affiliate; and (5) the owners failed to provide evidence of any defects with the sales transactions. The court found, without expressing any opinion about whether the panel was correct, that the panel “stayed well within its powers to adjudicate the dispute and executed those powers appropriately.” The court further found that the panel did not manifestly disregard the law. The court explained that the panel “was asked to interpret contracts that were arguably inconsistent both internally and with one another, and it made an informed, careful judgment about how to do so.” The court therefore granted summary judgment in favor of the oil companies and confirmed the award in its entirety.
Hale v. Chesapeake Expl., LLC, No. 4:18-cv-02217 (N.D. Ohio Apr. 25, 2019).