Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Texas

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In this dispute involving mineral interests pooled for natural gas production, lessors and other stakeholders alleged that the lessee underpaid royalties owed to them under their mineral leases and pooling agreements. The issues presented in this appeal centered on the lessee’s efforts to avoid a contractual obligation to pay royalties to the overlapping unit stakeholders for production from a zone shared by the two pooled units. The lower courts held that the agreement to pay royalties was enforceable. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) ineffective conveyance of title does not preclude the lessee’s liability under a contract theory; (2) the lessee’s quasi-estoppel and scrivener’s error defenses to contract enforcement failed as a matter of law; and (3) the lessee was not entitled to recoup royalty payments from stakeholders in another pooled unit; (4) this court’s decision in Hooks v. Samson Lone Star, Ltd. Partnership, 457 S.W. 3d 52 (Tex. 2015) precluded the unpooling stakeholders’ claims; and (5) the court of appeals properly construed a proportionate-reduction clause to award royalties owed to the overlapping unit stakeholders in accordance with their fifty percent mineral-interest ownership. View "Samson Exploration, LLC v. T.S. Reed Properties, Inc." on Justia Law

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In construing an unambiguous deed, the parties’ intent is paramount, and that intent is determined by conducting a careful and detailed examination of a deed in its entirety rather than applying some default rule that appears nowhere in the deed’s text. In this case, the Supreme Court construed a deed that conveyed a mineral estate and the surface above it. At issue was whether the language of the deed passed the entire burden of an outstanding non-participating royalty interest (NPRI) to the grantees or whether the NPRI proportionately burdened the grantor’s reserved interest. The trial court ruled that the deed burdened both parties with an outstanding NPRI and that the parties must share the burden of the NPRI in proportion to their respective fractional mineral interests. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the only reasonable reading of the deed in this case resulted in the parties bearing the NPRI burden in shares proportionate to their fractional interests in the minerals. View "Wenske v. Ealy" on Justia Law

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ConocoPhillips Co. and Alma Energy Corp. exchanged oil and gas interests under an exchange agreement in which each indemnified the other for any environmental claims related to the properties received. Alma later filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Thereafter, Noble Energy Inc. agreed to by the properties Alma had received from Conoco under the exchange agreement. After the bankruptcy proceeding concluded, an environmental contamination suit was filed against Conoco, and Noble refused to indemnify Conoco under the exchange agreement. Conoco filed suit against Noble alleging breach of the exchange agreement and seeking to recover the $63 million it paid to settle the suit. The trial court granted summary judgment for Noble. The court of appeals reversed and entered summary judgment for Conoco, concluding that the exchange agreement was an executory contract that was assumed by Alma and assigned to Noble in the bankruptcy proceeding. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that under the terms of the bankruptcy court order confirming the plan of reorganization and the agreement for sale of Alma’s assets, Noble was assigned an undisclosed contractual indemnity obligation of Alma. View "Noble Energy, Inc. v. Conocophillips Co." on Justia Law

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Respondent was a party to an oil and gas lease that restricted its use of the surface estate and required it to drill from off-site locations when feasible. Briscoe Ranch, Inc. owed an adjacent surface estate and agreed that Respondent could use horizontal drilling to drill from the surface of the Ranch in order to produce minerals from Respondent’s lease. The lessee of the minerals underlying the Ranch (Petitioner) was not a party to the agreement and sought to enjoin Respondent from drilling on the Ranch and asserted claims for both trespass and tortious interference with a contract. Petitioner claimed that its consent was necessary before Respondent could drill through the Ranch’s subsurface covered by its mineral lease. The district court dismissed the claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the loss of minerals Petitioner will suffer by a well being drilled through its mineral estate is not a sufficient injury to support a claim for trespass; and (2) Respondent’s drilling plans did not tortiously interfere with Petitioner’s contractual lease rights. View "Lightning Oil Co. v. Anadarko E&P Onshore, LLC" on Justia Law

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After BP America Production turned of the well valve to a gas well, Red Deer Resources, LLC, the top-lease holder, filed suit, asking the trial court to declare that BP’s lease had terminated. The jury found that the well was incapable of production in paying quantities the day after BP closed the valve and eight days after the last gas was sold or used. Based on these findings, the trial court declared that BP’s lease had lapsed and terminated, thus terminating BP’s lease in its secondary term. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and rendered a take-nothing judgment in favor of BP, holding that because Red Deer never obtained a finding that the well was incapable of production in paying quantities on the material date under the plain language of the lease, BP’s lease remained valid. View "BP America Production Co. v. Red Deer Resources, LLC" on Justia Law

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Respondent, who owned a ranch, sued Petitioner, which produced natural gas on the ranch, for underpayment of royalties and underproduction of its lease. The parties resolved their dispute with two agreements that contained an arbitration provision. Respondent later sued Petitioner for environmental contamination and improper disposal of hazardous materials on the ranch. Before arbitration commenced, Respondent asked the Railroad Commission (RRC) to investigate contamination of the ranch by Petitioner. Meanwhile, an arbitration panel awarded Respondent $15 million for actual damages and $500,000 for exemplary damages. At issue on appeal was whether the RRC had exclusive or primary jurisdiction over Respondent’s claims, precluding the arbitration, and whether the arbitration award should be vacated for the evident partiality of a neutral arbitrator or because the arbitrators exceeded their powers. The Supreme Court answered in the negative, holding (1) because Respondent’s claims were inherently judicial, the doctrine of primary jurisdiction did not apply, and vacatur was not warranted for failure to abate the arbitration hearing; and (2) the arbitrators did not exceed their authority. View "Forest Oil Corp. v. El Rucio Land & Cattle Co." on Justia Law

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T-4 permit to Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas, LLC to obtain common-carrier status, which would give it eminent domain authority pursuant to the Natural Resources Code. Denbury Green, which was formed to build and operate a carbon dioxide pipeline known as “the Green Line” as a common carrier in Texas, filed suit against Texas Rice Land Partners, Ltd. for an injunction allowing access to certain tracts of land so that it could complete a pipeline survey. While the suit was pending, Denbury Green took possession of Texas Rice’s property pursuant to Tex. Prop. Code 21-021(a). The trial court concluded that Denbury Green was a common carrier with eminent domain authority. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for proceedings consistent with the common-carrier test the Court established. The trial court granted summary judgment for Denbury Green. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that reasonable mind could differ regarding whether, at the time Denbury Green intended to build the Green Line, a reasonable probability existed that Green Line would serve the public. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and reinstated the trial court’s judgment, holding that Denbury Green is a common carrier as a matter of law. View "Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas, LLC v. Texas Rice Land Partners, Ltd." on Justia Law

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In this case the trial court entered judgment terminating a bottom lease based on jury findings that the lease failed to produce in paying quantities over a specified period of time. The court of appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial, concluding (1) the rule against perpetuities did not invalidate the top lease, and (2) the trial court erred in charging the jury on the production-in-paying-quantities question. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals correctly remanded for a new trial where (1) the top lease did not violate the rule against perpetuities; and (2) the trial court erred in charging the jury on cessation of production in paying quantities. View "BP America Production Co. v. Laddex, Ltd." on Justia Law

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ExxonMobile Corporation conducted oil and gas drilling and production operations on the Lazy R Ranch for nearly sixty years. After ExxonMobil sold its operations, the Ranch filed suit, claiming soil and groundwater contamination. The Ranch originally claimed remediation costs as money damages, but shortly before ExxonMobil moved for summary judgment, the Ranch dropped its claim and sought only an injunction ordering ExxonMobil to remediate the contamination. The ranch also requested an injunction mandating abatement of the contamination. The trial court granted summary judgment for ExxonMobil without specifying the grounds. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that that fact issues remaining regarding ExxonMobil’s statute of limitations defense. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) some claims, but not all, were barred by limitations; and (2) the Court declines to consider the availability of injunctive relief to remedy such contamination because the issue was not properly raised in the trial court. Remanded. View "ExxonMobil Corp. v. Lazy R Ranch, LP" on Justia Law

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An oil-and-gas lessor sued the lessee for failure to pay royalties. The trial court concluded that the lessor’s neighboring landowners were necessary parties to the suit and dismissed the case without prejudice because the lessor failed to join them. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in requiring joinder. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court abuse its discretion in requiring joinder under Tex. R. Civ. P. 39 and dismissing the case because the adjacent landowners did not claim an interest relating to the subject of the lessor’s suit against the lessee. Remanded for further proceedings. View "Crawford v. XTO Energy, Inc" on Justia Law