An oil and gas drilling company has dropped four counterclaims it has made against the city of Munroe Falls, but legal wrangling in the case concerning a well on the Sonoco paper mill property is not over.
According to Summit County Court of Common Pleas records, Ravenna based Beck Energy dismissed its counterclaims, in which the company contended the city had violated its rights and was asking for unspecified damages, against the city on Feb. 1 in a declaratory judgment case filed by the city in May 2016.
However, on Feb. 3, Beck Energy then filed a motion asking the court for sanctions against the city. The company is claiming that the court case is “frivolous” because it involves a question already dealt with by an earlier Ohio Supreme Court case. Beck is therefore asking the court to order the city to compensate it for “court costs, attorney fees, and other reasonable expenses” Beck is spending on the case.
“They’re saying basically we’re re-litigating old business,” Munroe Falls Law Director Tom Kostoff told City Council Feb. 7.
Mayor James Armstrong has said the city filed the current case to get clarification on the city’s authority because of what is perceived as an ambiguous 2015 Ohio Supreme Court decision in a case filed by the city.
“The Supreme Court case didn’t directly address the zoning part of it,” Armstorng told Council Feb. 7.
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Paul Gallagher ruled against the city this past July, saying state law granting the authority for drilling to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources takes precedence over a city ordinance requiring that Beck Energy apply for a zoning certificate to allow a well on a portion of the Sonoco property zoned R-4 residential.
Armstrong has also said the city would consider appealing Gallagher’s ruling in the Ninth District Court of Appeals, but can only do so when the common pleas case is completely resolved.
Kostoff said he hoped to have an update as to what the city’s response should be to the latest development by Council’s Feb. 21 meeting, but it would not be discussed in an open meeting because it involves pending litigation.
“That update will have to be part of executive session,” said Kostoff.
Court battles between the city and Beck Energy over questions of whether local zoning codes have any authority when it comes to drilling date back to 2011, including a previous common pleas case.
The issues have concerned a state law that gives authority over oil and gas wells to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
In a case filed by the city, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in February 2015 that the “sole and exclusive authority” to regulate oil and gas well locations is in the hands of the state.
The 4-3 decision said that state law “not only gives ODNR ‘sole and exclusive authority to regulate the permitting, location and spacing of oil and gas wells and production operations within Ohio, it explicitly reserves for the state, to the exclusion of local governments, the right to regulate ‘all aspects’ of the location, drilling and operation of oil and gas wells, including ‘permitting relating to those activities.’”
Justice Terrence O’Donnell sided with the majority, but wrote separately that the decision focuses on five Munroe Falls ordinances specifically governing oil and gas well drilling and operations, which the city subsequently repealed, and not broader questions about municipal control over how land within a given zoning district can be used as it relates to wells.