GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A family who sued the Antero Resources gas drilling company in 2011, saying nearby drilling activities poisoned their domestic water well and the air around their home on Silt Mesa, has won an appeal of a 2012 ruling that tossed the case out of court.
Bill and Beth Strudley and their two young sons moved away from their home after experiencing what they said was a variety of serious symptoms including endless coughing, severe rashes, blackouts and nose bleeds.
They claimed that fumes and chemicals from nearby Antero drilling rigs were the cause of their symptoms, and sued Antero and two of its contractors — Calfrac Well Services Corporation and Frontier Drilling LLC.
A Denver District Court judge dismissed the suit in May 2012, however, based on a legal precedent known as a “Lone Pine order,” which requires plaintiffs to make a “prima facie” [at first sight] case that shows the merits of their arguments before commencement of “discovery,” a process in which each side essentially shows its legal cards to the other.
That court ordered the Strudleys to produce affidavits showing exactly which chemicals had poisoned the air, water and ground of their home, “each and every study, report and analysis that contains any finding of contamination on Plaintiffs’ property,” and other detailed documents and evidence.
When the Strudleys did provide the court with certain articles of evidence, though, the companies asked the judge to either dismiss the case or rule in favor of the defendants. The court granted the companies’ request and dismissed the Strudleys case, saying they failed to provide the required “prima facie” evidence to support their case.
In a decision handed down on Wednesday, Denver Appeals Court Judge Ann B. Frick concluded that the trial court was wrong and that the Strudleys were entitled to full discovery in the case without first making a “prima facie” showing.
Frick ruled that the Colorado Supreme Court had earlier ruled that a trial court “abuses its discretion” by requiring a showing of a prima facie case before allowing discovery, as was argued by the Strudleys’ attorney, Corey Zurbuch.
According to Frick’s ruling, the Strudleys were correct when they argued that the trial court’s decision prevented the Strudleys from proving their claims because it “interfered with the full truth-seeking purpose of discovery.”
Frick also concluded that the legal tactic by the companies was not needed to protect them from frivolous claims.
Frick’s order sends the case back to the trial court, unless the companies decide to appeal the decision to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Attempts to contact Antero or its attorneys were not successful on Wednesday.