Articles Posted in Recent Cases

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I have generally tried to avoid using this platform to promote or brag on my law firm. But every rule should have its exceptions, and I want to brag about Graves Dougherty’s representation of the Friends of Lydia Ann Channel. Lydia Ann Channel is a feature on the Texas Gulf Coast near Port Aransas, a fishing and recreation community dear to many Texans’ hearts.  Below is a shot from Google Earth showing the channel. (click to enlarge)

Lydia Ann Channel
The Friends of Lydia Ann Channel are a group of environmentally conscious citizens who are seeking to cancel a permit granted by the Corps of Engineers for installation of a facility allowing barges to be moored in the channel. With our firm as counsel, the Friends sued  to require the Corps to revoke the permit, remove the barge moorings and restore the affected habitat along the channel. The facility is essentially a mile and a half parking lot for mooring of up to 200 barges that carry oil, chemicals and hazardous cargo.

Lydia Ann Channel 2
The Friends allege that the permit was granted without the necessary environmental reviews, and that the facility risks harm to the environmental, recreational, historical and archeological environment of the channel. The area is home to eight federally listed threatened or endangered species, including the whooping crane and sea turtles.

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Marsden v. Titan Operating, decided by the Fort Worth Court of Appeals in August 2015, is another case in which a landowner sought nuisance damages from the drilling of wells close to their home. After a jury trial, the trial court awarded damages of $36,000 to the Marsdens. The court of appeals reversed. The Marsdens have asked the Texas Supreme Court to hear the case.

The facts are these. The Marsdens bought 6 acres in Parker County in 1997, near Aledo, where they made their home with their two daughters. They signed an oil and gas lease covering the property in 2004. It was on the company’s printed form, but the Marsdens negotiated provisions they added by an addendum to the lease. The printed form provided that no well could be drilled nearer than 200 feet to any house on their property. But the addendum provided that no drilling operations could be conducted on the surface of their property – a “no-surface-use” lease.

In 2011, Titan, who acquired the Marsden lease and leases on adjacent properties, constructed a pad site immediately adjacent to the Marsdens’ property and within about 200 feet of their home. The rig for the initial well on the pad site was just over 300 feet from the house. The well was completed on a pooled unit in which the Marsdens’ property was included, and the Marsdens signed division orders and receive royalties from the unit.  Titan subsequently drilled five more wells on the pad.

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In January of last year the Texas Supreme Court decided Hooks v. Samson, a suit by royalty owners against Samson Lone Star Limited Partnership. I wrote a post on the Supreme Court’s decision, found here. The Hooks obtained a $21 million fraud judgment against Samson, but the First District Court of Appeals reversed and rendered judgment that the Hooks should take nothing. The Hooks appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. The focus of the Supreme Court’s opinion was whether the Hooks’ claim was barred by limitations — whether the Hooks should have discovered Samson’s conduct more than four years before it sued Samson.  The court of appeals had held that, under prior Supreme Court cases, it was bound to rule that the Hooks’ case was barred by limitations and should be dismissed. But the Supreme Court distinguished its prior opinions and held that, when the fraudulent documents Samson gave to Hooks were filed by Samson in the Railroad Commission, the Hooks could rely on them, even if the documents are contradicted by other public records.

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On January 29, the Texas Supreme Court issued its opinion in Hysaw v. Dawkins, a unanimous decision with opinion by Justice Guzman. Our firm represents one group of the plaintiffs in the case, which concerns construction of Ethel Hysaw’s will.

Ethel Hysaw had three children: Dorothy, Howard and Inez. Her will, executed in 1947, divided her lands in Karnes County among her three children. She gave one tract to each child. But she divided the royalties on oil and gas differently, and the dispute in the case was over how the will disposed of her royalty interest in the three tracts. The descendants of Dorothy and Howard argued that Ethel’s will divided all oil and gas royalties equally among Dorothy, Howard and Inez. The descendants of Inez argued that Ethel’s will divided a 1/8th royalty equally among her children, but left all other royalties to the child who got the surface of the property.  Wells producing from the Eagle Ford shale were drilled on the lands willed to Inez, and the lease signed by Inez’s descendants provides for 22.5% royalty. Inez’s heirs argued that Dorothy and Howard’s descendants each should receive 1/3 of 1/8th royalty, or 4.1666%, from those wells, and that they should receive the rest, .141666%. Dorothy and Howard’s descendants argued that each family should receive 1/3 of the 22.5% royalty, or 7.5% each.

Ethel’s will provided that

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Last week the Texas Supreme Court denied Chesapeake’s motion for rehearing in Chesapeake v. Hyder. The court originally affirmed the lower courts’ opinions in favor of the Hyders, with four justices dissenting. On rehearing, the court’s alignment did not change, but Justice Hecht issued a new opinion for the majority, and Justice Brown issued a new dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Willett, Guzman and Lehrmann.

These new opinions end a long fight between Chesapeake and the Hyders over the deductability of post-production costs from their gas royalties in the Barnett Shale area. Although the leases contain strong language against deduction of post-production costs, Chesapeake argued that, under the precedent of the prior Supreme Court decision of Heritage Resources v. NationsBank, 929 S.W.2d 118 (Tex. 1996), it could deduct post-production costs. Chesapeake lost in the trial court and the court of appeals. The Supreme Court granted Chesapeake’s petition for review but affirmed the decisions below, split 5 to 4. With the denial of Chesapeake’s motion for rehearing, that decision is now final.

The Hyders’ lease allows Chesapeake to drill horizontal wells from surface locations on the Hyders’ property which produce from adjacent lands — in other words, to use the Hyders’ land to produce oil and gas from adjacent properties. As consideration for that right, the Hyder lease grants the Hyders a royalty interest in production from those wells — an “overriding royalty,” carved out of Chesapeake’s working interest in the leases covering those adjacent lands. The Hyder lease provides that the Hyders are granted “a perpetual, cost-free (except only its portion of production taxes) overriding royalty of five percent of gross production obtained” from such wells. The argument was over the meaning of that language. Chesapeake argued that “cost-free” meant free of production costs; the Hyders argued that “cost-free” means fee of production and post-production costs.

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The Texas Supreme Court recently denied a petition for review filed by the Aycocks in their suit against Vantage Fort Worth Energy. The trial court and  court of appeals both ruled against the Aycocks’ claims. The holding in the case is not surprising, but dicta in the court of appeals’ opinion may raise some eyebrows among oil and gas lawyers.

Desdemona Cattle Company owned an undivided mineral interest in 1,409 acres in Erath County. In March 2008 Desdemona leased its undivided interest to Vantage Fort Worth Energy for $750 per net mineral acre, for a total of $394,574.60. The Aycocks also owned an undivided mineral interest in the 1,409 acres, and when they learned of Desdemona’s lease to Vantage, they contacted Vantage and sought to lease their interest. Vantage never replied. No well was ever drilled, and the Desdemona lease expired in March 2011.

In May 2012, the Aycocks sued Vantage. They claimed that they had ratified the Desdemona lease and were entitled to be paid a bonus of $750 per net mineral acre for their mineral interest. The trial court denied the Aycocks’ claim. The Eastland Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the Aycocks had no basis to assert a claim for unpaid bonus against Vantage.

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Lawyers have filed a new class action against Chesapeake in Pennsylvania. The suit is against Chesapeake Energy and Chesapeake Marketing, filed in the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs also filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association against Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC. According to the arbitration demand, title to Chesapeake’s leases in Pennsylvania is held by Chesapeake Appalachia, and many of those leases contain arbitration clauses requiring the lessor to arbitrate its claims. The complainants make the arbitration demand on behalf of all royalty owners in Pennsylvania who have leases with arbitration clauses.

The suit and the arbitration demand make similar claims, that Chesapeake through its affiliated companies “(1) paid the royalties on less than the revenue paid by the buyer, (2) paid no royalty on the proceeds of derivative contracts, (3) deducted costs incurred after [Chesapeake] no longer held title to the gas, (4) deducted gathering costs that were inflated through collusion and self-dealing with Access Midstream Partners, L.P., (5) deducted transportation costs that were fraudulent in their amounts, (6) deducted marketing fees that were never incurred, and (7) calculated the royalties on some of the gas without determining either the price paid or the costs deducted.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Caroselli Beachler McTiernan & Coleman, LLC in Pittsburgh and Robert C. Sanders, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

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Three amicus briefs have been filed in support of the Hyders, opposing Chesapeake’s motion for rehearing of the Texas Supreme Court’s decision in Chesapeake v. Hyder.

An amicus brief was filed by the City of Fort Worth and others who have filed suits against Chesapeake and Total to recover additional royalties on production in the Barnett Shale area:  City of Fort Worth Amicus Brief

An amicus brief was filed by a group of royalty owners represented by Dan McDonald, a Fort Worth attorney who has filed 430 separate suits against Chesapeake, representing more than 20,900 royalty owners in Johnson and Tarrant Counties: Barnett Shale Royalty Owners Amicus Brief

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The Texas Supreme Court asked the Hyders to respond to Chesapeake’s motion for rehearing in Chesapeake v. Hyder, after the court’s recent 5-4 decision in favor of the Hyders. Several amicus briefs (“friend of the court” briefs by entities not parties to the case) were filed in support of Chesapeake’s motion for rehearing. Exploration companies are clearly unhappy with language in Chief Justice Hecht’s majority opinion and asking the court to modify its language. The amicus briefs made the San Antonio Business Journal’s “Eagle Ford Shale Insight” feature.

I’ve written about this case before, and our firm filed an amicus brief in the case before the court issued its opinions, on behalf of Texas Land & Mineral Owners’ Association and the National Association of Royalty Owners-Texas.

So far, on rehearing, the following parties have joined in amicus briefs criticizing the court’s majority opinion:

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The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in the fight between the City of Lubbock and Coyote Lake Ranch over whether the accommodation doctrine applies to severed water rights. Here is a good article from the Texas Tribune summarizing the arguments. The oral arguments can be viewed on the Texas Supreme Court website, here.  My earlier discussion of the case can be found here.

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