Appeals judges return Range suit against homeowners to district court

By News Wires 02 April 2013 22:00 GMT

By News Wires 02 April 2013 22:00 GMT

From Star-Telegram, By Jim Fuquay, 04/02/13 – Range Resources Corp.’s lawsuit against Parker County homeowners who accused the Fort Worth-based producer of fouling their water well should go back to a Weatherford state district court, the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth ruled this week.

It’s the latest development in a proceeding that has included a high-profile enforcement action in 2010 that was later withdrawn by the Environmental Protection Agency against Fort Worth-based Range.

The case before the appeals court started with a 2011 lawsuit by Steve and Shyla Lipsky against Range, and includes a countersuit by Range against the Lipskys and their environmental consultant, Alisa Rich.

Rich and the Lipskys had asked 43rd District Judge Trey Loftin in Weatherford to throw out Range’s countersuit on grounds that it violated a Texas law prohibiting so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs.

Loftin rejected that argument in February 2012, a month after he threw out the Lipskys’ $6.5 million lawsuit against Range.

The case went to the appeals court, which agreed to hear a request to block Loftin’s ruling allowing Range’s lawsuit to continue.

In a letter dated April 1, the appeals court said it will suspend the case before it and allow Judge Craig Towson, who replaced Loftin in January, to reconsider Loftin’s decision.

The case could still remain with the appeals court, but only if all the parties, including Towson, agree to that option by April 11.

Brent Rosenthal, a lawyer for the Lipskys, told Bloomberg News Tuesday that he hadn’t decided whether to agree to waive reconsideration by the trial court.

“There are all sorts of angles in this,” he said. “Each side has veto power on that decision.”

In an emailed statement, Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said:

“We’re still considering the court’s question, but we’re confident that regardless of who considers the issue, the ruling by Judge Loftin is correct and Range’s claims, based on the false allegations against it, should proceed to a trial.”

Range’s countersuit alleges that the Lipskys and Rich conspired to persuade the EPA to intervene in their dispute regarding whether Range’s natural gas wells contaminated a water well on the Lipsky’s property in the Silverado development in southern Parker County.

The company is seeking $3 million in damages.

Loftin lost his re-election bid last year after a campaign that included charges by opponents that he improperly cited his decisions in the Range case as impacting the EPA’s actions.

Towson won election in November and took the bench in January.

This report contains material from Bloomberg News.

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