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Texans seek class action certification in suit against Talisman Energy USA

If four South Texas landowners get their way, a federal judge will certify the individual lawsuits they filed against Talisman Energy USA in 2016 as a class action. The plaintiffs allege that Talisman shorted them on royalty payments for oil leases on their land.

The four recently filed a motion to have their lawsuits against Talisman joined as a class, arguing that as many as 4,000 other royalty owners from Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas and Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania could join the ongoing litigation.

Bryan Blevins, a partner with Houston-based Provost Umphrey Law Firm LLP, said, “It’s clear that Talisman knew what they were doing when the company voluntarily commingled production from different wells and then allocated net sales in violation of best oil field practices and Texas law. We intend to prove that the amounts paid to the royalty owners were based on manipulated production volumes.” The plaintiffs are seeking to have Blevins and another member of his firm named as their lead counsel.

According to court filings, Talisman denies any wrongdoing.

The pending lawsuits claim Talisman manipulated production volumes for oil wells operated in the two shale basins named in the suit.

Talisman Energy USA is an indirect subsidiary of Calgary, Alberta–based Talisman Energy Inc., which was acquired by Repsol S.A. in 2015.

The case is Rayanne Regmund Chesser, Gloria Janssen, Michael Newberry and Carol Newberry v. Talisman EnergyUSA, Inc. No. 4:16-cv-02960 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division.

Texas jury awards $100 million in lawsuit between oil companies over underpayments under joint operating agreement

A Texas jury issued an award of $100 million in a lawsuit between two oil companies.

Jurors found that Talisman Energy USA, a Canadian firm, underpaid Matrix Petroleum of Houston and breached a joint operating agreement for gas and oil production in the Eagle Ford Shale. Talisman was acquired by Repsol in 2015 and is now called Repsol Oil & Gas USA.

The joint operating agreement dates back to 1954 and governs drilling and production on 12,600 acres of the Cooke Ranch. Talisman acquired its interest in 2010, along with its joint venture partner Statoil. Matrix was a non-operating partner, but the lawsuit alleges that Matrix was treated as a passive investor instead, with Talisman assuming unilateral control and breaching governing documents related to Cooke Ranch operations.

According to the complaint, an early dispute arose when Talisman drilled wells on a nearby property within 100 feet of the Cooke Ranch, without drilling an offset well on Cooke Ranch as required by the lease. The lawsuit also claimed that Talisman used improperly sized meters which failed to accurately measure the gas and oil produced from the Cooke Ranch field, resulting in Matrix not being paid for all of the gas and oil that Talisman produced from the well. The complaint alleged that Talisman sold the gas and oil to a third party, profiting from the difference. Repsol is expected to appeal the verdict.

Texas lawsuit filed claiming waste management firm engaged in tortious interference with contracts

A Texas waste management company filed a lawsuit in a state court claiming that a competitor engaged in tortious interference with contracts.

Waste Connections of Texas alleges in the complaint that Rubicon Global repeatedly hired local car-towing companies to “unlawfully remove” waste storage containers owned by Waste Connections. The lawsuit claims that Rubicon did this at least 35 times, when it acquired former customers of Waste Connections. Rubicon said that the lawsuit was part of a “pattern of anti-competitive behavior” by Waste Connections, and that Rubicon intended to disrupt the waste management industry.

Waste Connections claims that Rubicon’s methods of taking over accounts are problematic in part because Waste Connections’ contracts include the right to match offers from competitors, but the towing of waste containers is the primary issue in the lawsuit. The complaint alleges that Waste Connections sometimes only receives a few days’ notice that a customer is switching to Rubicon and waste containers need to be removed. If this deadline is not met, then Rubicon hires towing companies to move the containers, sometimes dropping them off full at the nearest Waste Connections yard. Other containers have gone missing for days, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit accused Rubicon of conversion, negligence and tortious interference with contracts. Waste Connections is seeking a declaratory judgment that the towing of waste containers violates contracts between Waste Connections and its customers, and an injunction preventing Rubicon from moving waste containers owned by Waste Connections, as well as damages, attorneys’ fees and other relief.

Texas appeals court rules on consent provision in oil lease case

A Texas appeals court eliminated a $27.7 million judgment against an oil and gas company in a dispute over a drilling farmout agreement, ruling that the contract permitted the company to withhold consent to an assignment of the agreement.

Carrizo Oil & Gas Inc. had appealed a jury verdict finding it liable for fraud, breach of contract and tortious interference with contract. The jury awarded Barrow-Shaver Resource Co. (BSR) $27.7 million on the breach of contract claim. Carrizo had signed a drilling farmout agreement with BSR, but when BSR signed a deal assigning the agreement to Raptor Petroleum II LLC, Carrizo refused to honor it.

The Twelfth District Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision, holding that BSR should receive nothing. Chief Justice James T. Worthen wrote that a provision in the farmout agreement permits Carrizo to withhold consent to assignment of the agreement to another party, and the trial court should not have submitted that issue to the jury.

Judge Worthen wrote that because the contract was unambiguous, the jury should not have had the opportunity to decide the breach of contract issue. The appeals court also noted that the evidence of previous drafts and negotiations indicated that Carrizo intended to preserve its right to withhold consent. The evidence was that a preliminary draft of the agreement said that Carrizo could not “unreasonably” withhold consent, but that clause was deleted. The appeals court said that this evidence was not barred from admissibility by the parol evidence rule, and the trial court should not have excluded it.

Texas telecommunications company sues Comcast claiming tortious interference

A small Texas telecommunications company has filed a lawsuit against cable giant Comcast, alleging tortious interference with contract.

In the lawsuit, Anthony Luna claims Comcast dug up and destroyed cables owned by his company, Telecom Cable. Luna alleges that Comcast workers cut cables and disrupted service to his customers in the Houston area. The complaint filed June 14 claims that Telecom Cable had to fold after a six-week effort of trying to restore service as customers deserted the company.

According to Luna’s attorney, he had been doing business in the Houston area since 2007, and Comcast offered to buy out his small cable operation in 2013. Luna declined. Comcast then began installing its own cables in shared utility easements, a normal industry practice. Telecom sent Comcast a map of its infrastructure and marked its cables with orange paint and flags, so that Comcast workers would not accidentally damage the cables. However, Luna soon began receiving shortage outages and finding that his cables had been cut. Luna claims that Telecom Cable’s lines were cut repeatedly and he was forced to close the business as customers terminated their service and switched to Comcast.

Luna is seeking damages in excess of $1 million, including punitive damages, for tortious interference with contract, negligence, conspiracy, and aiding and abetting.

Texas appellate court rules against owner of royalty interest in fraudulent inducement lawsuit

A Texas appellate court held that the owner of a royalty interest could not claim fraudulent inducement with regard to its settlement with a Shell Oil affiliate that operated the oil and gas property. In 2014, a Texas state court jury found that the Syrian American Oil Corp. (Samoco) was fraudulently induced into entering a settlement agreement in 1989 with Pecten Orient Co., a Shell affiliate that owned the property in Syria. However, the jury also found that Samoco should have discovered the issue before making the agreement.

On appeal, Samoco argued that it did not discover the fraud until 2006, when Pecten made an offer to buy the royalty interest. However, the First Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court, finding that Samoco’s 2007 lawsuit was time-barred.

The Texas appellate court also held that Pecten should have been awarded a portion of the $3.5 million in attorneys’ fees and costs that it claimed to have incurred, because the jury found that Samoco breached the agreement by filing the lawsuit. The jury awarded zero dollars in damages, but Pecten argued that it was contrary to the weight of the evidence. The court said that the evidence regarding fees was undisputed, and Samoco did not substantively challenge the attorneys’ fees evidence on appeal.

Eight ex-employees of Texas sanitation company claim racial discrimination

Eight African American employees of a Texas sanitation company have filed a lawsuit claiming discrimination and retaliation.

Dantrell Patterson, Lamonte Young, Demetrius Patterson, Tadarious Dixon, Keithdrick Patterson, Jarvis Hill, Jermaine Bell and Derrick Robert filed the lawsuit against Sanitation Solutions Inc. in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas on April 20. The plaintiffs claim that the defendant subjected them to acts of intentional discrimination based on race and color.

The lawsuit claims they were surrounded by a “systemic atmosphere of bigotry” at work. They claim Sanitation Solutions management and co-workers used racial slurs and referred to black employees as “boy,” and that a swastika and nooses were displayed at work locations and on trucks. The plaintiffs allege that they were subjected to harassment and discrimination, and retaliated against after they registered complaints about the treatment. The plaintiffs also claim that white workers were paid more than black employees doing the same work, and received lighter discipline than black workers in similar situations, with some of the plaintiffs being discharged. According to the complaint, when the plaintiffs retained counsel and presented management with a written list of grievances, the remaining employees had their employment terminated.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages, front pay, punitive damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney’s fees, an injunction preventing the defendant from engaging in unlawful practices or retaliating against the plaintiffs, reinstatement, and other proper and necessary relief. A jury trial is demanded.

Pipeline owners file $300 million breach of contract lawsuit against midstream operator

An amended breach of contract lawsuit was filed by Magellan Midstream Partners and Plains All American Pipeline against Stampede Energy, seeking over $300 million in damages over an oil transport deal.

The lawsuit claims that Stampede did not meet minimum volume obligations on the BridgeTex pipeline from March 2015 through 2016, breaching its contract. The BridgeTex pipeline carries around 300,000 barrels per day from Colorado City, Texas to the Gulf Coast. Stampede is a privately held midstream operator.

From mid-2014 to early 2016, oil prices dropped by more than 70 percent, prompting production cuts and leading several energy firms to declare bankruptcy. Pipelines function like toll roads, so they are generally considered to be better protected from commodity price fluctuations, but with fewer barrels to ship, pipelines have been affected by output declines.

An amended petition filed March 22 claimed that Stampede owed the plaintiffs over $311.8 million, including interest and late fees, for breaching its shipping obligations. The BridgeTex firms also filed a claim against Ballengee Interests, which guaranteed payments owed by Stampede.

According to court documents, Stampede agreed in August 2014 to ship 30,000 barrels per day of crude and condensate on BridgeTex, which is about 10 percent of the pipeline’s capacity. Court filings state that Stampede executed a Transportation Service Agreement calling for the company to ship on the pipeline for 29 quarters.

Texas appeals court’s decision shows importance of wording in noncompete agreements

A recent decision by a Texas appeals court demonstrates that the wording of a noncompete agreement must be precise.

In the case, East Texas Copy Systems, Inc. v. Player, the Court of Appeals in Texarkana ruled that a noncompete agreement was nonbinding due to the language used in the agreement.

As part of the sale of a business, the buyer agreed to employ the seller for four years, and the seller agreed not to compete with the buyer in a certain geographic area for a two year period. The noncompete clause stated that if the seller’s employment was terminated “for any reason other than a for cause termination” within two years, then the noncompete clause would no longer be binding. The parties also signed a separate noncompete agreement with identical language regarding the agreement being nonbinding if the seller was terminated for any reason other than for cause.

The seller voluntarily resigned his employment within two years of entering into the agreement and entered into competition with the buyer.

The seller filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration that the noncompete clauses were nonbinding, and the buyer asked the court to enforce the clauses. The trial court found that the seller was not bound by the noncompete agreement. The buyer appealed, arguing that to allow the seller to voluntarily end his employment and begin competing would thwart the purpose of the agreement. The court disagreed, noting that the agreements between the parties covered other issues besides the agreement not to compete. The court held that the plain language of the clause allowed the seller to compete, because both parties agreed that the employment had terminated without cause.

The case illustrates the importance of making sure that a noncompete agreement actually protects the interests that the parties intend to protect.

Texas property owners file class-action suit against Devon Energy over royalties

A class-action lawsuit has been filed by Texas property owners alleging that Devon Energy used sham transactions to underpay natural gas royalties.

On January 6, class-action status was granted by U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade in Dallas, allowing the four individuals who brought the lawsuit to represent the interests of thousands of landowners. The judge found that there were common legal issues, that Devon Energy owed a common duty to the members of the class, and that a formula can determine the damages owed to each class member, if any.

The landowners claim that the production arm of Devon Energy sold the natural gas to an affiliate, Devon Gas Services, at a low well head price. Devon Gas Services then used its Bridgeport plant to process the gas and deduct a 17.5 percent processing fee from royalty checks, the lawsuit alleges.

The plaintiffs called the processing fee “unreasonable and lucrative” and stated that Devon calculates royalties based on the “artificial” price it received from its own affiliate rather than what it was paid by unaffiliated third parties. The lawsuit also claims that after the gas left the processing plant, Devon and its affiliates made a profit selling the residue gas to third parties, but did not pay royalty owners a share of those profits.

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