August 17, 2020
On August 17, 2020, Nix Patterson and Co-Counsel Ryan Whaley obtained a verdict of more than $150 million on behalf of Oklahoma royalty owners. The Honorable Judge John Gibney, sitting by designation in the Eastern District of Oklahoma, ruled in favor of the Plaintiff, Perry Cline, and the Class of owners he represented following a four-day bench trial with Brad Beckworth and Drew Pate serving as lead trial counsel from Nix Patterson. Judge Gibney awarded the Plaintiff and Class $74,763,113.00 in actual damages, plus additional interest that has accrued up to August 17, 2020. Judge Gibney also awarded $75,000,000.00 in punitive damages.
The lawsuit alleged Sunoco violated Oklahoma law by withholding interest owed on late royalty payments unless an owner specifically requests it. In October 2019, the Court certified the case as a class action. Nix Patterson then strategically filed a motion for partial summary judgment that, if granted, would substantially narrow the issues for trial. The Court granted the motion one week before trial and ruled that Sunoco must pay the interest automatically under Oklahoma law.
Following the bench trial, the Court made the following findings in its Opinion:
- “Recognizing that the law mandated interest, Sunoco has adopted a policy only to pay if the well owner requests an interest payment. Since most well owners do not know they can get the payment, few request their interest, and Sunoco keeps the money. It amounts to millions of dollars each year.”
- “Sunoco’s indifference to its obligation extends far beyond not paying what it should. Sunoco has never even bothered to figure out how much interest it owes to owners.”
- “Sunoco wants to force all 53,000 victims of its scheme to file independent claims, just as it has tried to compel them to make individual requests for interests. No doubt, Sunoco hopes that the owners will abandon their claims, most of which are small, rather than incur the cost and effort to take on a behemoth. Class actions exist precisely for claims such as those presented here.”
- “As thousands of mothers have told their children, the fact that everyone does something does not make it right. Here, an industry (apparently supported by its lawyers) decided that it owes interest that it never has to pay. This myopic group-think does not excuse keeping millions of dollars of other people’s money.”
Additionally, Nix Patterson succeeded in striking Sunoco’s primary expert witness’s testimony by demonstrating the numerous discovery violations, late disclosed information, and shifting opinions that tainted his testimony.
The Court has ordered Class Counsel to submit an updated damages number to include the amount of interest that has compounded since the December trial, which will only further increase the actual damages awarded by the Court.
8-17-20 Order 8-17-20 Opinion