UNFAIR TRADE PRACTICES & CONSUMER PROTECTION LAW-SUBSURFACE MINERAL RIGHTS-ATTORNEY GENERAL’S ACTION-ANTI-TRUST LAW

March 28th, 2019 by Rieders Travis in Business and Corporations

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. v. Commonwealth, 2019 Pa. Cmwlth. LEXIS 236 (March 15, 2019) Ceisler, J.-In these combined interlocutory appeals by permission, we address two issues of first impression pertaining to Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (Law or UTPCPL). The first is whether Appellee Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Office of Attorney General (Attorney General), can bring a cause of action against lessees pursuant to the UTPCPL, due to allegedly wrongful conduct perpetrated by the lessees in the context of leasing subsurface mineral rights from private landowners. The second issue is whether the Attorney General can bring a cause of action against those lessees, pursuant to the UTPCPL, for alleged violations of antitrust law. The Court of Common Pleas of Bradford County (Trial Court) answered both questions in the affirmative; however, after thorough consideration, we affirm in part and reverse in part. We hold that the Attorney General was permitted to file a UTPCPL-based lawsuit against Appellants, but can only pursue antitrust claims through the UTPCPL where the so-called “antitrust” conduct qualifies as “unfair methods of competition” or “unfair or deceptive acts or practices,” as those terms have been either statutorily defined in the UTPCPL or by the Attorney General through the administrative rulemaking process. Thus, in light of the requirement that, in order to sustain a demurrer, “it must appear with certainty that the law will permit no recovery, and any doubt must be resolved in favor of the non-moving part[.]” Christ the King Manor, 911 A.2d at 633. We reverse the Trial Court regarding its decision to overrule Appellants’ demurrers to Count III of the Attorney General’s Second Amended Complaint., but otherwise affirm the Trial Court. Furthermore, we direct Appellants to each file an Answer to the Second Amended Complaint within 20 days of this matter’s record being returned to the Trial Court.