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In Elk River, Equitable Gathering LLC (“EQT”) entered into a Master Service Agreement with Elk River Pipeline LLC (“Elk River”) for the construction of a section of pipeline in West Virginia. The Master Service Agreement stated that it would be “construed, interpreted and enforced in accordance with and shall be governed by the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, excluding its conflict of law rules.” Despite this language, Elk River contended that West Virginia law should apply to the contract. The Court agreed, holding West Virginia law governs construction of the Master Service Agreement and requires a determination of whether a “substantial relationship” exists with the jurisdiction whose law was selected by the parties. Ultimately, the Court found that the contract did not have a substantial relationship with Pennsylvania, and therefore, the Court refused to enforce the contract’s choice of law provision.
Following the Elk River decision, contractors entering into construction contracts for projects in West Virginia should be careful to ensure that the choice of law provision in that construction contract selects the law of a state that has a substantial relationship with the contract.
Although Pennsylvania courts have not yet addressed whether natural gas construction activities constitute an “improvement” under the Pennsylvania Mechanics’ Lien law, contractors and subcontractors may have mechanics’ lien rights for services rendered. Thus, it is undecided whether the lien would attach to the fee simple interest of the owner of the real property at issue, or whether a lien claimant is limited to attaching its lien to the leasehold interest of either the lessee or easement holder.
Although also not yet addressed by a Pennsylvania appellate court, it seems clear that the Pennsylvania Contractor and Subcontractor Payment Act (CASPA) applies to contracts entered into for natural gas development. Under CASPA, owners of construction projects must pay contractors according to the terms of their contracts. If owners fail to do so, courts may award the contractor interest along with penalty fees and attorneys’ fees. Furthermore, under CASPA a venue and/or choice of law provision selecting a venue outside of Pennsylvania or seeking to apply non-Pennsylvania law is unenforceable.