September 05, 2018

Oil and gas royalty owners asked an Oklahoma federal judge Wednesday to approve a $6.95 million deal with Chesapeake Energy Corp. and its co-founder to settle antitrust claims filed for thousands of landowners alleging the company conspired to fix prices on their leases.

A group of six plaintiffs filed the request for preliminary approval of the agreement and for certification of the class for purposes of the settlement.

"This settlement — which provides for a lump-sum cash payment of $6.95 million — represents an excellent result for the class," the motion for approval said, adding that the settlement "reflects the strengths and weaknesses both sides viewed with their respective positions, as well as the risks associated with continuing to litigate the case."

The litigation, first filed in March 2016, came one day after Chesapeake's CEO and part owner of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder, Aubrey McClendon, died in a car accident. That occurred less than 24 hours after McClendon was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on allegations he'd been working with oil and gas companies between 2007 and 2012  to decide in advance the winner of land leases in order to avoid competition.

In April 2016, the court consolidated several suits into one action. Led by Brian Thieme, the proposed class includes individuals that own royalties in the Mississippi Lime Play area — located in Oklahoma and Kansas — of the Anadarko Basin region, a massive geological formation holding natural gas and oil deposits.

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An attorney for the plaintiffs, Christopher Cormier of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, told Law360 on Wednesday in an email that thousands of landowners in Oklahoma and Kansas will finally get the "relief and justice they deserve" through the settlement.

"In case proceedings, Chesapeake admitted to potential isolated instances of anticompetitive conduct, and while the plaintiffs believe a large-scale conspiracy could ultimately be proven, they determined this guaranteed settlement provides much-needed closure and accountability," Cormier wrote in an email. "We hope the court swiftly approves this settlement so the plaintiffs and people in the proposed class can obtain some recovery for the economic losses they experienced."

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