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 Occidental Chemical Corporation v. Jenkins, a chemical-plant employee who was severely injured at work sued Occidental, which had owned the chemical plant many years prior to the accident but not at the time of the accident. The plaintiff sued Occidental on the theory that even though Occidental was no longer the owner of the plant (and thus not liable on a premises-liability theory), Occidental remained forever liable for its "negligent design" of improvements at the chemical plant made during the time it owned the plant. A panel of the First Court of Appeals in Houston agreed with the plaintiffs' theory, reversed the trial court's take-nothing judgment, and directed the trial court to enter judgment for the plaintiff.
Occidental appealed to the Texas Supreme Court on two theories: (1) that previous owners of real property in Texas do not remain forever liable for conditions on the premises; and (2) that the plaintiff's suit was barred by Texas's statute of repose. The Texas Supreme Court granted Occidental's petition and, in a precedent-setting tort-law decision, held that a previous owner of real property is not liable for its "negligence" in creating conditions on property it no longer owns. Occidental Chem. Corp. v. Jenkins, 478 S.W.3d 640 (Tex. 2016).
Occidental's Petition for Review
Texas Supreme Court Opinion
Please note: Ryan Clinton wrote the briefing on behalf of Occidental in the court of appeals and at the petition-for-review stage, but changed law firms (and did not thereafter participate in the case) after the petition-for-review stage.
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).
Ryan Clinton's paper on Oil and Gas Damages was presented at the State Bar of Texas's Damages in Civil Litigation Conference in February 2015 by Davis, Gerald & Cremer sharehold Jad Davis.
Ryan's paper analyzes the appropriate damages measurements for frequently litigated oil-and-gas causes of action including royalty claims, implied obligations, trespass, negligence, nuisance, fraud, breach of contract, punitive damages, and slander of title.
To read Ryan's paper in full, click this link:
In Pioneer Natural Resources USA, Inc. v. Petroplex Energy, Inc., Petroplex claimed that Pioneer's lease had partially terminated and segregated into separate leases at the end of the lessee's continuous-development operations. Pioneer moved for summary judgment, arguing that production on the fully developed lease perpetuated the lease in its entirety, and that no language in the lease supported Petroplex's argument that production in any particular drilled area perpetuated the lease only as to that area. The trial court agreed with Pioneer and granted its motion for partial summary judgment.
In Tenaska Energy, Inc. v. Ponderosa Pine Energy, LLC, the trial court vacated a $125 million arbitration award in a dispute over the sale of a power plant. After the court of appeals reinstated the arbitration award, Tenaska appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas. Tenaska argued that the award should be vacated due to the evident partiality of the arbitrator, who failed to disclose the full scope of his contacts with opposing counsel and their law firm. The Texas Supreme Court agreed, vacated the $125 million arbitration award, and remanded for a new arbitration. Tenaska Energy, Inc. v. Ponderosa Pine Energy, LLC, 437 S.W.3d 518 (Tex. 2014).
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 State v. Lueck, a governmental employee was terminated after a vendor charged the State hundreds of thousands of dollars for disputed work. The employee then sued the State, claiming that an e-mail he previously wrote to his supervisor protected his conduct under the Texas Whistleblower Act. The State, represented by Ryan Clinton, appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, arguing that the substantive elements of the Whistleblower Act limited the jurisdiction of Texas courts, and that the plaintiff’s claim fell outside the Act’s waiver of immunity from suit and liability. After briefing and oral argument, the Texas Supreme Court agreed and dismissed the suit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. State v. Lueck, 290 S.W.3d 876, 886 (Tex. 2009).
In addition to State v. Lueck, Ryan Clinton handled two more cases in the Texas Supreme Court on the same issue. The Court also held for the state agency at issue in each of the two additional companion cases. See Texas Dept. of Health & Human Services v. Okoli, 440 S.W.3d 611 (Tex. 2009); Texas Dept. of Transp. v. Garcia, 293 S.W.3d 195 (Tex. 2009).
State of Texas's Brief
Supreme Court of Texas Opinion (Lueck)
In In re Waller Independent School District, the school district petitioned the Texas Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus to force the Texas Attorney General to approve public securities even though the validity of those securities was contested in pending litigation. The Supreme Court required the Attorney General to file a brief in response to the petition, which was filed 11 days later. After receiving the Attorney General's response, the Supreme Court denied the school district's petition. In re Waller Indep. Sch. Dist., No. 08-0079 in the Supreme Court of Texas.
Attorney General's Brief
In Texas Parks & Wildlife Department v. E.E. Lowrey Realty, Ltd., the Texas Supreme Court resolved a conflict among the courts of appeals over whether an employee of a governmental agency sued in his or her official capacity is entitled to interlocutory review of the denial of a plea to the jurisdiction. The Court held that the employee is entitled to interlocutory review, and that under the facts of the case, the state governmental entity and its employees sued in their official capacity were protected by sovereign immunity from suit because the Texas Legislature has not waived sovereign immunity for suits for alleged property damage arising from a dangerous condition.