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Driller cleared of $400K in damages to Franklin Township property

| Friday, April 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Fayette County jury found a gas driller did not cause $400,000 in damages to a Florida woman's property in Franklin Township.

The jury deliberated for approximately three hours before returning the verdict on Thursday before President Judge John F. Wagner Jr.

Nona Chubboy of Tierra Verda, Fla., named Atlas Noble as the sole defendant in the 2005 lawsuit.

In the breach-of-contract complaint filed by her attorney, Mark Mehalov of Uniontown, Chubboy claimed Atlas caused excessive damage by timbering, quarrying limestone and removing topsoil when it installed four wells on 94 acres of her land. In addition, Chubboy said the company shorted her on royalty payments and installed an access road in the wrong location.

The company said it limited the amount of work it did on the property to only what was necessary to construct the wells, according to court documents.

The jury of nine women and three men found that Chubboy failed to prove her allegations during the three-day trial.

Atlas' attorney, Bradley Tupi of Pittsburgh, told jurors Chubboy has been paid $232,000 in royalties and continues to receive payments. She was paid $10,000 for the timber, he said, and the land was restored to within 70 percent of its former condition, as required by state law.

“The standard under state law is not to replace trees or make it look like a park,” Tupi said.

In addition, Tupi said Chubboy did not produce any witnesses who said they saw Atlas removing sandstone and topsoil from the property.

“It's irresponsible to call somebody a thief ... if you don't have any proof,” Tupi said.

Mehalov said Atlas took advantage of the fact Chubboy lives in Florida and could not monitor the company's work daily.

“They were running roughshod on that property because they knew ... she wasn't there,” Mehalov said. “They could do what they pleased, and that's what they did.”

Mehalov said circumstantial evidence pointed to Atlas having removed the sandstone and topsoil.

“These are huge amounts,” Mehalov said, noting that 5,864 cubic yards of topsoil and 10,000 tons of sandstone were removed.

Chubboy testified her property was worth $365,000 in 2003, before she signed a gas and oil lease with Atlas and the wells were installed. Its value afterward was $194,500, according to a real estate appraiser who testified for Chubboy, Wylie Rittenhouse of Franklin Township.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com

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