When the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners decided to prosecute a non-profit animal-shelter veterinarian as a "test case" to attempt to expand the state agency's authority over animal shelters, Ryan Clinton joined a team of litigators at the law firm Ewell, Brown & Blanke to challenge the agency's unlawful abuse of power pro bono. The team won at every level, and three years into the litigation, the state agency gave up. Nonetheless, the Austin Court of Appeals went on to hold that an agency rule attempting to regulate shelter medicine violated Texas law and approved a state administrative law judge's conclusion that the agency exceeded its statutory authority when it attempted to prosecute the animal-shelter veterinarian. Tex. Bd. of Veterinary Med. Examiners v. Ellen Jefferson, DVM, NO. 03–14–00774–CV, 2016 WL 768778 (Tex. App.--Austin Feb. 26, 2016, no pet.) (mem. op.).
In XOG Operating, LLC v. Chesapeake Expl. Ltd. P'ship, the assignor of a leasehold-assignment contract asserted that the assignee's leasehold rights had partially terminated based on the contract's retained-acreage clause. That clause stated that at the end of the assignee's continuous-development operations, the transferred rights terminated except for those rights associated with acreage in a "proration unit," which "shall mean the area within the surface boundaries of the proration unit then established or prescribed by field rules or special order of the appropriate regulatory authority for the reservoir in which each well is completed." The assignee argued that each producing well retained the number of acres in a prescribed proration unit under Railroad Commission's field rules, and the court of appeals agreed. XOG Operating, LLC v. Chesapeake Expl. Ltd. P'ship., 480 S.W.3d 22 (Tex. App.--Amarillo 2015, pet. filed).
Chesapeake's Brief on the Merits
Court of Appeals's Opinion
In Clayton Williams Energy, Inc. v. BMT O&G TX, L.P., a group of lessors sued lessee Chesapeake Exploration L.L.C. and farmee Clayton Williams Energy, Inc., asserting that Chesapeake's lease expired because it was developed under a farmout agreement rather than by Chesapeake itself. The trial court entered a multi-million dollar judgment and declared the lease terminated. On appeal, Chesapeake argued that Clayton Williams's timely development under the farmout agreement perpetuated the lease under its plain terms and that no evidence supported the trial court's damages award. The El Paso Court of Appeals agreed with Chesapeake, reversed the trial court's judgment in its entirety, and rendered judgment that the lessors take nothing on their claims. Clayton Williams Energy, Inc. v. BMT O&G TX, L.P., 473 S.W.3d 341 (Tex. App.--El Paso 2015, pet. denied).
In this large oil-and-gas dispute, Plaintiff Community Bank of Raymore asserted that the drilling rights of Defendants Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C. and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation terminated as to certain deep depths. Plaintiff had two theories: (1) that a horizontal-termination clause had terminated Defendants’ deep-depth drilling rights at the expiration of the lease’s primary term; and (2) that a severance clause was triggered, effecting a partial termination of deep-depth drilling rights as to areas of the lease in which Defendants had already achieved production at the expiration of the primary term. On appeal, Defendants argued that neither partial-termination clause had been triggered because the lease continued to be held in full force, past the expiration of the primary term, by the lessee's continuous-development operations. After briefing and oral argument, the El Paso Court of Appeals sided with Defendants and affirmed the trial court’s judgment that Plaintiff take nothing on its claims. Community Bank of Raymore v. Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C. & Anadarko Petroleum Corp., No. 08-12-00025-CV (Tex. App.–El Paso Nov. 6, 2013).
Court of Appeals Opinion
In two related and novel oil-and-gas disputes, a group of investors leased to themselves partial mineral interests in West Texas properties based on a disputed fractional executive interest. The group asserted that they had inherited the stranded (or “naked”) fractional executive interest in the properties, which they in turn asserted gave them a right to considerable oil-and-gas profits after they executed a contract leasing the minerals to themselves. The trial court agreed with the investors and held that they were owed a substantial sum of back and future payments. Ryan Clinton led the appellate efforts and presented oral argument on behalf of Defendants/Appellants Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C. and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation. After briefing and argument, the court of appeals reversed and rendered judgment that the investors take nothing from Chesapeake and Anadarko. The court held that the investors did not own the executive interest upon which they based their claims, but instead that a non-party to the dispute had previously purchased the disputed executive rights. Chesapeake Exploration L.L.C. v. BNW Property Co., No. 08-11-00239-CV, 2012 WL 5987573 (Tex. App.—El Paso Nov. 30, 2012, no pet. h.); Anadarko Petroleum Corp. v. BNW Property Co., No. 08-11-00238-CV, 2012 WL 5987570 (Tex. App.—El Paso Nov. 30, 2012, no pet. h.).
In Occidental Permian Ltd. v. Helen Jones Foundation, et al., a group of Texas royalty owners alleged that OPL, an oil and gas producer, had underpaid royalties for casinghead gas produced during carbon dioxide-injection tertiary recovery operations in West Texas. After the jury reached a multi-million dollar verdict for the plaintiffs, OPL appealed and the Amarillo Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s judgment, concluding that no evidence supported the jury’s findings. The court of appeals rendered judgment that the plaintiffs take nothing against OPL. Occidental Permian Ltd. v. Helen Jones Foundation, 333 S.W.3d 392 (Tex. App.—Amarillo Jan. 31, 2011, pet. denied).
In Petroleum Synergy Group, Inc. v. Occidental Permian, Ltd., the owner of an overriding royalty interest in an oil-and-gas lease sued Occidental, claiming that Occidental breached its implied covenant to prevent substantial drainage from the leased acreage. The trial court entered judgment on the jury's verdict that Occidental did not fail to prevent substantial drainage, and the plaintiffs appealed. The Amarillo Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the plaintiffs did not demonstrate substantial drainage as a matter of law. Petroleum Synergy Group, Inc. v. Occidental Permian, Ltd., 331 S.W.3d 14 (Tex. App.--Amarillo 2010, pet. denied).
In Rusty’s Weigh Scales v. North Texas Scales, the plaintiff alleged that NTS misappropriated trade secrets when it repaired industrial weighing scales originally sold and programmed by the plaintiff. After briefing and argument, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of NTS, concluding that the plaintiff provided insufficient evidence to support any damages award. Rusty’s Weigh Scales v. North Texas Scales, 314 S.W.3d 105 (Tex.App.—El Paso 2010, no pet.).
In Manchester Tank & Equipment Co. v. Engineered Controls International, Inc., the manufacturer of a gas cylinder sued the manufacturer of a valve assembly installed on the cylinder after both parties settled personal-injury claims brought against them in a separate action. The trial court held that under Texas law, the two companies held off-setting indemnification claims against each other and rendered judgment that the cylinder manufacturer take nothing. The cylinder manufacturer appealed to the Waco Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court's take-nothing judgment. Manchester Tank & Equipment Co. v. Engineered Controls International, Inc., 311 S.W311 S.W.3d 573 (Tex. App.--Waco 2009, pet. denied).
In Texas A&M University v. Bading, several third-party contractors sued Texas A&M University, arguing that the University was financially responsible for any claims brought against the third-party contractors by victims of the tragic collapse of the Aggie Bonfire. The trial court denied Texas A&M's plea to the jurisdiction and the university appealed. At the Waco Court of Appeals, Texas A&M argued that the university was immune from plaintiffs' suit for contribution and indemnity because the Texas Legislature had not waived sovereign immunity for contribution and indemnity claims. The Waco Court agreed, writing that "because there is no statute or resolution of the Legislature authorizing them, the doctrine of sovereign immunity bars all of [the plaintiffs'] claims." Tex. A&M Univ. v. Bading, 236 S.W.3d 801 (Tex. App.--Waco 2007, pet. dism'd as improvidently granted).