North Dakota ranch hand wins lawsuit against Continental Resources

Continental Resources has ended its five-year fight with a North Dakota ranch manager who started his own trucking business nine years ago in the Bakken oilfields.

The Rapid City Journal reported the Oklahoma City energy firm paid Jerry Janvrin $278,320.

Here’s how the newspaper reported the story:

A Harding County ranch hand’s five-year fight against a major oil company ended recently when the company paid him $278,320.

“With the help of others, a little Podunk sheepherder from nowhere took on a giant and made a statement,” said Jerry Janvrin, 66, who manages a ranch near Buffalo, according to the Rapid City Journal.

Janvrin sued Continental Resources in 2014 for cutting him out of the trucking business in the Bakken oilfield of North Dakota. A jury awarded Janvrin compensatory and punitive damages at the conclusion of a 2017 trial. Continental Resources lost an appeal of the verdict this past August and decided to pay Janvrin rather than pursue a further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Janvrin formed J&J Trucking in 2010. The company employed other local ranchers as truck drivers to haul drilling pipes for customers in the booming North Dakota oil industry.

Most of J&J Trucking’s business came from CTAP LLC, an equipment supplier with a location in Bowman, North Dakota. The majority of CTAP’s business came from Continental, an Oklahoma-based, top-10 U.S. oil producer and the largest leaseholder in the Bakken region, according to documents filed in the lawsuit.

During a February 2014 blizzard, a Continental Resources pickup that was passing through the Cave Hills area of northwestern South Dakota struck and killed two cattle that belonged to Janvrin’s relatives. A local newspaper, The Nation Center News, subsequently published a story about the oil boom’s role in increased vehicle-livestock collisions, and Janvrin was quoted in the story urging companies in the oil fields to slow down their drivers.

A Continental supervisor in the company’s Harding County field office was miffed about the article. He quickly passed it up the Continental chain of command, where it reached someone who contacted CTAP. Four hours after Janvrin’s comments were published in the newspaper, a CTAP official called to tell him that CTAP would no longer do business with J&J Trucking. 

“One day we were going great guns, and the next day we were completely out of business,” Janvrin recalled Friday. “I remember I was sitting on the rear end of one of those trailers, and I just couldn’t believe it.”

Janvrin had employed up to 29 people, many of them local ranchers who used the jobs to help pay bills on their ranches.

Janvrin said a friend who had worked as a lawyer in Alaska, Tom Melaney, told him Continental’s conduct was illegal. Melaney’s advice led Janvrin to Kenneth Barker, a lawyer in Belle Fourche with experience in oil-industry cases.

Barker filed a lawsuit on Janvrin’s behalf in July 2014, and the case was tried Jan. 10-12, 2017, at the federal courthouse in Rapid City. The jury awarded Janvrin his full request for compensatory and punitive damages.

Continental filed its notice of appeal in July 2017, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled against Continental on Aug. 20 of this year. On Sept. 19, Barker filed a notice that Continental had finally paid Janvrin.

Janvrin, who called himself an “old bachelor rancher,” said he hasn’t made any decisions about what to do with the money.

“One day you’re idling along and the next day you have this windfall,” Janvrin said. “You don’t make plans for anything like that until it happens.”