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Contracts Keyed to Frier
Mobil Oil Exploration & Producing Southeast, Inc. v. United States
Citation:530 U.S. 604 (2000)
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Plaintiff entered into a contract with Defendant, in which Plaintiff paid approximately $156 million in exchange for 10-year leases pursuant to which Plaintiff could produce any oil it found off the coast of North Carolina. Plaintiff also agreed to pay subsequent rental and royalty payments. The contract was made subject to certain then-existing statutes and regulations, as well as future regulations promulgated pursuant to then-existing statutes. These statutes and regulations included, among other things, requirements that Plaintiff obtain Department of Interior (DOI) approval of an exploration plan and other approvals from the State of North Carolina. Under the statute, the DOI was required to approve an exploration plan that met its requirements within 30 days. Plaintiff submitted a draft exploration plan and the DOI issued an informal, preliminary finding that the proposed exploration would not significantly affect the environment. Subsequently, Congress enacted the Outer Banks Protection Act (OBPA), which altered the requirements to which Plaintiff was subject when it entered into the contract. Specifically, the newly-enacted OBPA delayed formal approval of any exploration plans for a period of at least 13 months, delayed approval of well permits, and created a new DOI environmental review. Two days after the enactment of OBPA, Plaintiff submitted its formal exploration plan to the DOI. Approximately five weeks later, the DOI wrote a letter to Plaintiff stating that Plaintiff’s exploration plan was “approvable in all respects,” but that the OBPA prohibited it from approving the plan at that time. About two months later, North Carolina objected to Plaintiff’s well permitting on the grounds that it did not have sufficient information. Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant claiming that Defendant repudiated the contract, and seeking restitution of its $156 million. The United States Court of Federal Claims granted Plaintiff summary judgment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.
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