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Harris v. Belvoir Energy, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

May 18, 2017

GARY HARRIS PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
BELVOIR ENERGY, INC. DEFENDANT-APPELLANT

         Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CV-13-816379

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Eric D. Valente Jeffrey W. Krueger J.W. Krueger & Associates, L.L.C.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Charles H. Cooper Rex H. Elliott Barton R. Keyes Bradley A. Strickling Cooper & Elliott, L.L.C.

          BEFORE: E.T. Gallagher, J., Keough, A.J., and Boyle, J.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          EILEEN T. GALLAGHER, J.

         {¶1} Defendant-appellant, Belvoir Energy, Inc. ("Belvoir"), appeals from an order of the common pleas court compelling Belvoir to submit allegedly confidential trade secret materials to plaintiff-appellee, Gary Harris ("Harris"), in the course of discovery. Belvoir raises the following assignment of error for our review:

The trial court erred in ordering Belvoir to produce unredacted copies of its cash receipts ledger for the period 2004 through 2015.

         {¶2} After careful review of the record and relevant case law, we reverse the trial court's judgment and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Procedural History [1]

         {¶3} Harris has conducted business as Group Maintenance, Inc., Asset Management Trust, Heartbreak Hotel Inc., and Jefferson Investment X, Ltd. On June 18, 2004, Harris negotiated a Gas Pipeline Lease Gas Transportation Agreement (the "Agreement") with lessee, Lenox-Morgan Pipeline, L.L.C. ("LMP"), that permitted LMP to transport natural gas through a pipeline in Northeast Ohio owned by Harris. The Agreement identified Harris's business entities as the lessor. Pursuant to its express terms, the Agreement required the lessee to pay the lessor the greater of $850 per month or 42 cents per MCF[2] transported through the pipeline on a triple net basis. The Agreement provided that the lease shall expire on August 31, 2015.

          {¶4} On October 29, 2013, Harris filed a complaint against Belvoir, setting forth causes of action for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and accounting.[3] In the complaint, Harris alleged that "Belvoir Energy, Inc. is the successor and assignee of all legal rights, interests and obligations under the Agreement" and "succeeded and was assigned those rights, interests and obligations from Belvoir Oil & Gas, L.L.C. and/or [LMP]." The complaint further alleged that Belvoir breached the terms of the lease agreement by paying the monthly minimum of $850 despite transporting substantial quantities of natural gas through its pipeline for years without paying the higher rate of 42 cents per MCF rate owed under the agreement. Thus, Harris contends that Belvoir was unjustly enriched and improperly reaped profits by "failing to pay the 42 cent MCF rate owed to plaintiff for years * * * and by failing to account for the number of natural gas MCF's transported throughout plaintiff's pipeline."

         {¶5} On November 26, 2013, Harris sought all documents reflecting any revenue received by LMP, Belvoir, or Belvoir Energy, in any way related to the pipeline subject to the Agreement and to the natural gas transported through that pipeline (the "cash receipts ledgers").

         {¶6} On August 26, 2015, the trial court conducted a telephone pretrial conference to resolve a discovery dispute related to the cash receipts ledgers. On August 28, 2015, the trial court ordered Belvoir to provide the court with unredacted copies of the cash receipts ledgers for in camera review.

         {¶7} On August 31, 2015, the trial court conducted a second telephone pretrial conference with the parties during which they expressed their respective opinions as to whether the cash receipts ledgers were discoverable. At the conclusion of the pretrial telephone conference, the trial court ordered Belvoir to ...


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