One contract clause, three opinions.

An assignment of royalty interests for a continental shelf project had this “calculate or pay” clause:  “The overriding royalty interest assigned herein shall be calculated and paid in the same manner and subject to the same terms and conditions as the landowner’s royalty under the Lease.”  The parties disputed whether the clause simply required calculation of royalties in the same way as the government’s royalty, or allowed suspension of the assigned payments during a period when the government’s royalty right was suspended. Total E&P USA, Inc. v. Kerr-McGee Oil & Gas, No. 11-30038 (revised June 20, 2013).  Applying Louisiana law, the majority found the clause ambiguous on that issue, and further reasoned that at the time of contracting, legal principles that eventually became settled and could resolve the ambiguity were not yet settled.  Noting that no cross-appeal was taken, the Court reversed a summary judgment and remanded for consideration of extrinsic evidence.   A succinct concurrence noted an additional reason for finding ambiguity based on the grammar of the clause.  A dissent took issue with the majority’s analysis of other contract provisions and applicable law, and would have affirmed summary judgment about interpretation but reversed as to reformation for mutual mistake.    Both the majority and dissent endorsed consideration of extrinsic evidence, for different reasons and purposes — a general topic which recurs with some regularity in the Court’s contract opinions.

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