Preliminary orders issued in Cabot, Kemble case

The Susquehanna County judge presiding over the case of a Dimock Twp. man sued by drilling company Cabot Oil & Gas for violating the terms of their settlement agreement has issued several preliminary orders after hearing courtroom arguments last week.
In a five-page order issued Friday, Presiding Judge Jason J. Legg denied several attempts by a group of lawyers also named in the lawsuit who tried to bring down the amount of money they would have to pay out if they lose.
The lawyers also wanted to be let out of repaying Cabot for the costs of defending itself from the lawsuit if they lose and wanted Legg to order Cabot to take out language in the lawsuit which they considered “scandalous.”
Legg ordered the attorneys to answer to Cabot’s lawsuit within 20 days.
In August, Cabot sued Dimock Twp. resident Raymond Kemble for violating an agreement against bad mouthing each other and the attorneys for filing what Cabot alleges was a frivolous lawsuit against them in federal court earlier this year. That lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.
Kemble and Cabot reached a settlement in 2012, which included a cash payout, after Kemble sued Cabot for property damage and nuisances in 2009.
Besides Kemble, Cabot also sued Charles F. Speer, a Kansas City, Missouri, attorney, and the Pennsylvania law firm Fellerman and Ciarimboli, who they claim engaged in “wilful, malicious and grossly negligent” litigation in their attempt to build an anti-fracking law practice in the August 2017 civil suit.
None of Legg’s rulings dealt with the separate but conjoined legal arguments presented in court last week on Kemble’s behalf.
Legg is expected to issue separate opinions on those, which include Kemble’s request for protection from Cabot’s lawsuit under the state’s SLAPP, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, at a later date.
In the orders issued Friday, Legg ruled against the group of lawyers by denying their request to dismiss Cabot’s claims for punitive damages, which are designed to punish litigants, as opposed to compensatory damages, which are designed to compensate litigants.
Legg observed that Cabot had put the attorneys – who he calls the “Attorney Defendants” — on notice that they objected to what they felt was the true nature of their lawsuit as the attorneys “had no viable legal claim against Cabot” and that the statute of limitations had expired.
“Accepting these allegations as true, and taking all reasonable inferences from said facts, Cabot has certainly pled sufficient facts to demonstrate, at a minimum, that the Attorney Defendants acted with reckless indifference to Cabot’s rights when the Attorney Defendants initiated the federal litigation against Cabot,” Legg wrote in one of several lengthy footnotes.
Legg also ruled in favor of the attorneys – and in this instance Kemble – by crossing out Cabot’s monetary damage claim of $5 million.
Legg noted that the Pennsylvania Rules of Court direct that lawsuits like the one filed by Cabot “shall not contain any specific sum.”
But during oral arguments last week an attorney for Cabot had already conceded the impropriety of the $5 million claim, which attracted media attention when the lawsuit was filed last summer, saying it should not have been included in the first place.
In other rulings, Legg refused to remove a request from Cabot attorneys that they be paid attorneys fees if successful in the case. Legg ruled that under a 1978 Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion the attorneys who are defendants could be on the hook to pay for Cabot’s costs in defending parts of the lawsuit. Success on claims that the attorney’s lawsuit interfered with Cabot’s settlement agreement with Kemble, legally considered a contract, could result in their paying the fees, he said.
Legg also refused to remove what the attorneys claimed were “scandalous” claims in the lawsuit where one was described as a “pig farm nuisance lawyer from Missouri.”
“While the court acknowledges that some of the language utilized was likely unnecessary for the purpose of drafting an effective pleading, and may have been designed to attract media attention, the Attorney Defendants have failed to demonstrate any prejudice arising from the inclusion of such allegations within Cabot’s complaint,” he wrote.
No specific deadline has been set for Legg’s opinions on Kemble’s part of the lawsuit.

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