Justia Texas Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
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In this case involving a written assignment of an overriding royalty interest in minerals produced from land in Wheeler County the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the trial court's judgment declaring that the assignment conveyed an overriding royalty interest in all production under the lease, holding that the assignment unambiguously conveyed the assignor's overriding royalty interest in all production under the lease.The assignment in this case identified the single well that was producing at the time of the assignment, the land on which the well was located, and the lease under which the overriding royalty interest existed. At issue was whether the assignment conveyed the assignor's interest in all production under the identified lease or only in production from the identified well or from any well drilled on the identified land. The court of appeals held that the assignment conveyed only the 3.75 percent overriding royalty interest in production from the tract of land on which the well was located. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the assignment unambiguously conveyed all of the interest that the assignor owned at the time of the conveyance. View "Piranha Partners v. Neuhoff" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals, holding that a devise of "all...right, title and interest in and to Ranch 'Las Piedras'" referred only to a surface estate by that name, as understood by the testatrix and beneficiaries at the time the will was made, and did not include the mineral estate.Respondents asserted that their father's life estate under their grandmother's will included her interest in not only the surface of Las Piedras Ranch but also the minerals beneath it. The trial court awarded judgment in favor of Respondents. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Respondents' claims were premised on an erroneous interpretation of their grandmother's will. Therefore, Petitioners were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. View "ConocoPhillips Co. v. Ramirez" on Justia Law

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In this case examining whether the former version of the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) applies to certain counterclaims alleged in a dispute over an oil and gas lease the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals dismissing all the counterclaims in this case, holding that the court of appeals properly dismissed one counterclaim but erred in dismissing the remaining counterclaims.At issue was whether each counterclaim was "based on, relates to, or is in response to" the "exercise of the right of free speech" or the "exercise of the right to petition," as defined by the governing statutory text. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 27.003(a). The Supreme Court held (1) certain communications to third parties about an oil and gas lease allegedly involving the exercise of free speech, on which some of the counterclaims were based, were not covered by the TCPA because they did not relate to a matter of public concern under the TCPA, and therefore, the court of appeals erred in dismissing these counterclaims; and (2) the court of appeals correctly disposed of the "right to petition" counterclaim. View "Creative Oil & Gas, LLC v. Lona Hills Ranch, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case arising from an offer to purchase an assignment of a farmout that fell through the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that Plaintiff could not prevail on its breach of contract claim or fraud claim as a matter of law, holding that, as a matter of law, both claims failed.The trial court granted judgment in favor of Plaintiff on its claims. The court of appeals reversed, holding (1) Plaintiff's breach of contract claim failed as a matter of law because the contract's consent-to-assignment provision unambiguously gave Defendant an unqualified right to refuse to consent, and (2) Plaintiff's fraud claim failed as a matter of law because Plaintiff could not justifiably rely on an oral promise to do something that was addressed in the written contract. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant could not have breached the contract as a matter of law because the plain language of the contract unambiguously entitled Defendant to withhold its consent to a proposed assignment; and (2) where the written terms of the contract controlled Plaintiff could not justifiably rely on an oral statement. View "Barrow-Shaver Resources Co. v. Carrizo Oil & Gas, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court awarding specific performance to Pathfinder Oil & Gas, Inc., which claimed a twenty-five percent working interest in certain mineral leases under a letter agreement that Great Western Drilling Ltd. claimed was unenforceable, holding that Pathfinder was entitled to specific performance.On the day before trial, the parties stipules that only certain issues would be submitted to the jury and that favorable jury findings would entitle Pathfinder to specific performance instead of money damages. The jury charge included only the specifically enumerated jury issues, and the jury answered those issues in favor of Pathfinder. The trial court awarded specific performance as provided by the parties' agreement. The court of appeals reversed and rendered a take-nothing judgment, holding that specific performance was unavailable without a jury finding that Pathfinder was "ready, willing, and able" to perform its obligations under the contract. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, through the stipulation, Great Western waived the right to insist on any other fact findings that might otherwise have been required to entitle Pathfinder to specific performance. View "Pathfinder Oil & Gas, Inc. v. Great Western Drilling, Ltd." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court affirming the conclusions of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that CPS Energy violated both Tex. Util. Code 54.204(c)'s uniform-charge requirement and section 54.204(b)'s prohibition of discrimination, holding that the PUC could reasonably have concluded, as it did, that CPS Energy violated the plain terms of section 54.204(b).The PUC concluded that a utility that invoices different telecommunications providers a uniform rate nevertheless violates section 54.204(b) if it fails to take timely action to ensure that all pole attachers actually pay the uniform rate it invoices. The court of appeals reversed, holding that if a telecommunications provider does not pay the rate the utility uniformly charges, any discriminatory effect is the telecommunication provider's fault, not the utility's. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the PUC's finding that CPS Energy failed to make any serious or meaningful effort to collect from AT&T Texas was supported by substantial evidence, and the effect on Time Warner Cable was clearly discriminatory. View "Time Warner Cable Texas LLC v. CPS Energy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the district court's judgment affirming the negative use determinations issued by the Commission on Environmental Quality as to Respondents' applications for tax exemptions for heat recovery steam generators (HRSGs), holding that Texas Tax Code 11.31 does not give the Commission and its Executive Director discretion to deny an ad valorem tax exemption for HRSGs.In Brazos Electric Power Cooperative v. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, __ S.W.3d __ (Tex. 2019), also issued today, the Supreme Court held that the Legislature has deemed HRSGs to qualify at least in part as "pollution control property" entitled to an exemption. The Court further held in Brazos Electric that the Commission abused its discretion by issuing negative use determinations for two exemption applications involving HRSGs when the applications complied with relevant statutory requirements. In the instant case, the Commission issued negative use determinations for Petitioners' applications for tax exemptions for HRSGs. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals correctly held that the Commission may not issue negative use determinations for HRSGs. View "Texas Commission on Environmental Quality v. Brazos Valley Energy, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals ruling that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality does not have the discretion to deny an ad valorem tax exemption for heat recovery steam generators (HRSGs), devices the Legislature considers "pollution control property," holding that the Legislature did not exceed its constitutional authority in exempting pollution control property from taxation.Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, Inc. filed for an exemption seeking a positive use determination for the HRSG used in two of its facilities. The Commission's Executive Director issued negative use determinations for the applications on the grounds that HRSGs are not eligible for a positive use determination. The Commission eventually affirmed the determinations as to both facilities. The trial court affirmed. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) under Texas Tax Code 11.31, property that qualifies as pollution control property, is entitled to a tax exemption, and HRSGs qualify, at least in part, as pollution control property; and (2) thus, assuming the applicant otherwise complies with the statute's requirements, the Executive Director may not issue a negative use determination for HRSGs. View "Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, Inc. v. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court finding that the holder of the executive right to lease a mineral estate violated its duty of utmost good faith and fair dealing by refusing to lease in contravention of the non-executive's known wishes, holding that legally sufficient evidence supported the trial court's finding.The executive right inherent in mineral ownership encompasses the right to execute oil and gas leases. The Supreme Court has previously held that the executive's duty owed to the non-executive mineral- or royalty-interest owners of utmost faith and fair dealing requires that the executive not engage in acts of self-dealing that unfairly diminish the value of the non-executive interest. Here, Plaintiff sued the executive, alleging that, as holder of the executive rights to certain mineral interests, the executive breached the duty of utmost good faith and fair dealing by refusing to enter a lease. The trial court rendered judgment for Plaintiffs. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs met their burden to show that the executive engaged in acts of self-dealing that unfairly diminished the value of Plaintiffs' non-executive interest. View "Texas Outfitters Limited, LLC v. Nicholson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals in this case involving the construction of an “opaquely worded oil and gas agreement,” holding that Burlington Resources may deduct post-production costs when calculating royalty payments due to Amber Harvest on its oil and gas leases.Amber Harvest, an affiliate of Texas Crude Energy, owned overriding royalty interests in the oil and gas leases operated by Burlington. Texas Crude sued Burlington, alleging that the parties’ agreements prohibited Burlington from charging post-production costs to the royalty holder. All parties agreed that the contracts at issue were unambiguous. After construing the agreements based on the language the parties chose the Supreme Court held that Burlington’s construction of the parties’ contracts was correct and that Burlington may deduct post-production costs when calculating royalty payments. View "Burlington Resources Oil & Gas Co. v. Texas Crude Energy, LLC" on Justia Law