July, 2020 | The Law Offices of Gregory D. Jordan

Texas Court Discusses Scope of Assignment in Recent Oil and Gas Case

Oil and gas law in Texas is often closely intertwined with contract law. In fact, many Texas oil and gas disputes are based on disagreements over unclear terms in lease or sale agreements. Earlier this year, the state’s high court issued a written opinion in a Texas oil and gas case highlighting the importance of unambiguous contractual terms. The case required the court to determine the scope of an oil and gas assignment that was, by all accounts, far from clear.

The facts of the case

According to the court’s opinion, Neuhoff Oil purchased a two-thirds interest in a mineral lease for a piece of property referred to as Section 28. A few years after its initial purchase, Neuhoff Oil assigned its two-thirds interest, reserving for itself a 3.75 percent overriding royalty interest on all production under the lease.

From 1975 to 1999, there was only one well on Section 28. Under the assignment agreement, Neuhoff received royalty payments until 1999, when Neuhoff sold its overriding royalty interest to Piranha Partners. The following year, Neuhoff Oil went out of business, and all the company’s assets were assigned to individual members of the Neuhoff family.

After the sale to Piranha Partners, the operator drilled several other wells on Section 28. Piranha Partners continued to receive payments related to the initial well. However, the Neuhoff family received payment for all the newly drilled wells. However, in 2012, the operator obtained a title opinion suggesting that Piranha Partners actually owned the royalty interest according to the sale. The operator then paid Piranha Partners what it believed the company was due, and asked the Neuhoff family to refund it for the amount they received in error.

The Neuhoffs filed this lawsuit, claiming that the sale to Piranha Partners only included the one well in existence at the time of the agreement. The trial court agreed with Piranha Partners, finding that the sale agreement transferred the rights to all wells then in existence and those not yet in existence. The court of appeals reversed, finding that the agreement only transferred the Neuhoff’s rights for some of the future wells. Not satisfied with the appellate court’s opinion, Piranha Partners appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

The Texas Supreme Court agreed with Piranha Partners, that the agreement conveyed the mineral rights to the entirety of Section 28. The court first looked to the language of the conveyance:

Neuhoff Oil does hereby assign, sell and convey unto Piranha . . . without warranty or covenant of title, express or implied, subject to the limitations, conditions, reservations and exceptions hereinafter set forth . . . all of Neuhoff Oil’s right, title and interest in and to the properties described in Exhibit “A.”

The court then looked to Exhibit A, which described both the individual well that existed at the time of the sale, as well as the property as a whole. The court reviewed the typical rules of construction and the surrounding circumstances, finding neither helpful to resolving the issue at hand. Ultimately, the court determined that Exhibit A was ambiguous because it referred to the individual well, the general area where the well was located, as well as the entire property. Thus, the court looked to the agreement as a whole, trying to reconcile what the original intent of the parties would have been at the time the agreement was executed. Ultimately, the court agreed with the trial court, holding that Piranha Partners obtained a royalty interest in the entire property.

Are you involved in a Texas oil and gas dispute?

If you have a Texas oil and gas legal issue, contact Austin oil and gas attorney Gregory D. Jordan for immediate assistance. Choosing an attorney to represent you or your business in a Texas oil and gas dispute is a crucial decision that can save months or even years of litigation, and tens of thousands of dollars. At the Law Offices of Gregory D. Jordan, we have been effectively handling Texas oil and gas cases for over 30 years. To learn more, call 512-419-0684. You can also contact us online.

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