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Truth, Justice and Vindication: Dimock Verdict Overturned

dimock verdict - Tom Shepstone ReportsTom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.

 

The insane Dimock verdict rendered last year has been overturned, the jury’s decision bearing “no discernible relationship to the evidence” says the judge.

Friday can be a wonderful day and this one is especially so. The Dimock verdict rendered last year by an out-of-control jury that paid no attention to the evidence has been overturned. The $4 million award to the plaintiffs has entered the universe of wild dreams from which one awakes to find the world is still right-side up. Truth, justice and vindication have been dispensed.

Dimock Verdict

Dimock Plaintiff Scott Ely’s mansion built with gas money. He wanted still more but the Judge says no.

The word just came down from Martin C. Carlson, the United States Magistrate Judge who heard the case in Scranton last year (emphasis added):

…the weaknesses in the plaintiffs’ case and proof, coupled with serious and troubling irregularities in the testimony and presentation of the plaintiffs’ case – including repeated and regrettable missteps by counsel in the jury’s presence – combined so thoroughly to undermine faith in the jury’s verdict that it must be vacated and a new trial ordered. Moreover, the jury’s award of more than $4 million in damages for private nuisance bore no discernible relationship to the evidence, which was at best limited; and even were the Court to find that the jury’s verdict of liability should stand, the Court can perceive no way in which the jury’s damages award could withstand even passing scrutiny regardless of the applicable standard of review.

We do not take this step lightly, and we recognize the significance of voiding the judgment of a panel of jurors who sat through nearly three weeks of trial and reached a unanimous verdict. Nevertheless, upon consideration of the trial record, and following reflection on the substantial and varied weaknesses in the plaintiffs’ case together with the myriad examples of inappropriate conduct that repeatedly occurred in the jury’s presence and may have colored the outcome of this case, the Court is constrained to find that a new trial is not only justified, but required.

There’s much, much more, of course, but the highlighted text indicates exactly what our reports of last year on the trial suggested; that the jury paid no attention to the facts, didn’t understand what the case was really about and acted out of emotion rather than on the record. Here’s some more from the decision:

The plaintiffs repeatedly attempted at trial to distance themselves from this agreement once it became apparent that the September 2008 drilling or “spud” date came after the plaintiffs had made reports of trouble with their water, as the problem this presented for their claims was obvious. Although the plaintiffs were offered on multiple occasions the opportunity to challenge the effect of the stipulation appropriately outside the presence of the jury, they declined to do so. Instead, they seemingly shifted their focus to offer new and different theories regarding Cabot’s alleged activities near the drill sites that preceded the actual spud date, and Mr. Ely in particular testified that the drilling occurred in June or July, 2008 – something that was simply inconsistent with the plaintiffs’ stipulation, which the Court ultimately found to be binding for purposes of trial

The evidence unquestionably showed that the plaintiffs had begun experiencing some problems with their water before the spud date for the Gesford wells. Mr. Ely prepared a handwritten document in 2009 noting the problems began in the summer of 2008, and Mr. Ely testified at trial that problems began in August 2008. On cross-examination, Mr. Ely emphasized that his family “began noticing issues with our water in August of 2008.” A day after giving this testimony, Mr. Ely reaffirmed it, noting that there was nothing about his prior testimony that he wanted to change. Mrs. Ely testified similarly…

In addition to the fact witness testimony, the jury heard testimony from the plaintiffs’ experts, Paul Rubin and Anthony Ingraffea, which also added to the information the jury had to consider whether Cabot’s drilling impacted the plaintiffs’ water supplies, and whether its conduct was negligent. Indeed, the plaintiffs largely relied on the testimony from these experts to establish that Cabot’s drilling and cementing of the wells was negligent, that the subsurface structure of earth in this area was highly fractured, and that Cabot’s drilling activity permitted methane to flow into underground aquifers that wound up polluting the plaintiffs’ water wells. This testimony was, in the Court’s estimation, riddled with problems and limitations

…despite the plaintiffs’ persistent efforts to distance themselves from or disavow their binding stipulation, the evidence demonstrated convincingly that the plaintiffs’ problems with their water were witnessed by all of them before Cabot had begun drilling the first of the Gesford wells. The plaintiffs all acknowledged that they experienced problems with the water in their wells at least a month before Cabot started to drill on the Gesford pads. This manifest problem of “cause and effect” was never adequately explained by the plaintiffs, who time and again either evaded this issue, attempted to impeach their own stipulation, or endeavored to provide some alternative explanation for their own prior representations. Eventually, however, the plaintiffs’ case was confined and hobbled by their own statements and testimony which showed that some of the very problems that they claim Cabot caused by its drilling activity occurred before Cabot broke ground on either well. While the plaintiffs provided some scant evidence that could suggest that problems with their water worsened after drilling began in earnest, but this evidence was extraordinarily limited and vague

Moreover, this evidence was overwhelmed by other testimony and evidence. Given the scientific nature of the plaintiffs’ claims, the plaintiffs necessarily relied upon expert testimony to explain how the defendants were negligent in their drilling operations, and how that negligence could have caused contaminants to flow beneath the earth’s surface to the plaintiffs’ nearby water wells. Yet, the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses offered opinion testimony that came perilously close speculation and at best were inferences that had weak factual support

And even if there were a minimum quantity of evidence that could have allowed the jury to reach its finding regarding Cabot’s negligence, and a causal relationship between that negligence and the alleged contamination of the plaintiffs’ water, the plaintiffs provided essentially no testimony or other evidence that could have allowed a jury to make a rational calculation of damages that they sustained. In short, on the issues of causation and damages the plaintiffs’ presentation left the jury largely at sea, invited appeals to sympathy and speculation, and provided us with few principled ways to explain or justify a damages award of $4.24 million for the nuisance and interference with the plaintiffs’ use and enjoyment of their property

During trial, the plaintiffs, their witnesses and counsel continually strayed into forbidden territory by repeatedly hinting at evidence that had been excluded from the jury’s consideration, or by resorting to unorthodox questioning and argument from counsel at all stages of the case. This inappropriate conduct marred the trial from opening to close, and impelled the Court repeatedly to conduct sidebars with the parties – 40 in total, lasting more than three and a half hours, often at the request of Cabot’s counsel – and, unfortunately, to admonish and reprimand plaintiffs’ counsel in the jury’s presence even during closing argument

Given the profoundly mixed, equivocal and limited nature of this damages evidence, there simply is no reasoned and informed way to comprehend how these examples of inconvenience justified an award of the size handed down by the jury. Although a jury generally has broad discretion to consider damages, its award must still be grounded in a reasonable assessment of the evidence, and the jury may not abandon analysis for sympathy.

There is so much more to report in the next day or two, but that last line gets to the root of the matter. This was a jury motivated by emotion and manipulated through the bizarre and improper presentation of the case by the Dimock plaintiffs’ counsel, not to mention the lack of any facts supporting the case. It should never have been brought and only was for purely ideological reasons and perhaps a little greed.

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17 thoughts on “Truth, Justice and Vindication: Dimock Verdict Overturned

  1. Did I read that their well problems started before any drilling occurred ?? Wait until they get the lawyer’s bill for this.

    • Don’t hold your breath! Nothing as of yet on Binghamton’s purveyor of fake drilling news, the Depressed and Glum Bulletin. Though I did see something on, of all places, Stateimpact, PA,the shameless shills for the usual anti-drilling suspects.

      If/when there actually *is* a new trial, I wonder who the ‘expert’ witnesses for the plaintiffs will be. Josh Fox? Yoko Ono? Can’t believe they would call Tony the Tiger again. And who will they buy to represent them? Their last attorney came in for a lot of scorn from Judge Carlson for her courtroom antics.

      • Please do not speak on things you no nothing about. The cat is out of the bag,,THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SAFE GAS WELL DRILLING!

        • Pull your head out and look around! Fracking has been done since the 40’s, and is currently being done in over 30 states. Over 2 million frack jobs. Only you ostriches continue to spout lies like this.

  2. It is so good to read this comedy rewrite of the trial… although it brought laughter to my heart it brought tears as well. knowing that people within the 9 mile radius of this lie were not allowed to drill because of it. Even worse then that every tour givin by Vera Scroggins is based entirely on the misinformation of Scott Ely, Craig Stevens, Craig Sautner and NYRAD as well as the unqualifications of Vera to give those tours. Every NY resident in favor of drilling yet denied by Cuomo, should send their legislators, senators, congressman and Governor Cuomo a letter similar to this. Dimock Pa was the foundation our right to drill was built upon and yet as time passed, every brick in that foundation has collapsed. Perhaps someone at the DRBC WILL FINALLY MAKE A POSITIVE DECISION INFAVOR OF DRILLING.

    • When you have no water will you feel the same? I would tell you to read my previous posts but they have been taken down. I guess the Gas Companies do not believe in free speech.

  3. I saw info about this in thehill and wondered if you had heard. Very interesting. This was the same judge that heard the case with the jury?

  4. Pingback: Rubin and Ingraffea Play Role in Dimock Verdict OverturnNatural Gas Now

  5. Likely the attorneys worked on a contingency basis, i.e., fee based on settlement award. No settlement award, no attorney payment.

  6. Pingback: StateImpactPA Is A Fractivist Freak ShowNatural Gas Now

  7. Pingback: How a judge scrapped Pennsylvania families' $4.24M water pollution verdict in gas drilling lawsuit - NationofChange

  8. Pingback: Judge Scrapped Pennsylvania Families’ $4.24M Water Pollution Verdict In Gas Drilling Lawsuit | PopularResistance.Org

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