Although a natural gas consultant was found to have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law for helping draft a lease, the state Superior Court has dismissed the counterclaims against him.
Judges on the panel said the consultant’s advice provided a benefit to his clients, who were preparing to lease their property.
The clients who sought to lease their property for gas drilling — Laurel Hill Game and Forestry Club and Williamson Trail Resources — said William A. Capouillez was unjustly enriched when he was contracted to draft a lease and provide them with legal advice while not being licensed to practice law.
The Superior Court last week affirmed the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas’ dismissal of a counterclaim against Mr. Capouillez.
In an unpublished memorandum, Judge Judith Ference Olson agreed with the trial court’s determination that “it would be inequitable for [Mr. Capouillez], who provided valuable services to the other parties, to be deprived of any consideration that he received.”
She said that the clients should pay for services that the consultant rendered.
“It would be unfair,” Judge Olson said, “for Laurel Hill and Williamson Trail to use [Mr. Capouillez’s] services to their benefit and then cry foul that he lacked accreditation and authorization in order to deprive him of payment.”
Scranton-based energy law attorney Stephen Saunders said it was not uncommon for consultants to advise landowners in oil, gas and mineral rights matters “in the early days of leasing.” But as oil and gas leasing progressed, he said, the process became more sophisticated and parties more frequently turned to attorneys to handle agreements.
Pittsburgh oil and gas attorney Kevin Colosimo said not only do consultants acting as legal advisers infringe on the territory of licensed law practitioners, but they also enter the wheelhouse of real estate professionals.
Mr. Colosimo explained that in the absence of a license to practice law, an individual with a real estate license may be retained to draft a lease in oil and gas matters and not be considered to be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
Judge Olson said the trial court correctly determined that Mr. Capouillez was engaged in the unauthorized practice of law as he “actively negotiated” and drafted a lease in 2006 for the lessors, while advising his clients of their rights and preparing documents that required legal knowledge.
The contract dispute in the case stemmed from an agreement between Mr. Capouillez and the lessors along with the company to which the land was leased, Range Resources-Appalachia (formerly known as Great Lakes Energy Partners).
Pittsburgh-based attorney Dennis Moskal represented Mr. Capouillez. Andrew Sims of Harris, Finley & Bogle in Fort Worth, Texas, represented Range Resources, and Pittsburgh-based Houston Harbaugh attorney Robert Burnett represented Laurel Hill and Williamson.
(Copies of the 21-page opinion in Capouillez v. Laurel Hill Game and Forestry Club, PICS No. 14-0521, are available from The Legal Intelligencer. Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 1-800-276-PICS to order or for information.)
P.J. D’Annunzio can be contacted at 1-215-557-2315 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PJDAnnunzioTLI. To read more articles like this, visit www.thelegalintelligencer.com.