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In re Archer Directional Drilling Services LLC

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

December 20, 2013

IN RE ARCHER DIRECTIONAL DRILLING SERVICES LLC

Original Mandamus Proceedings[1]

Sitting: Karen Angelini, Justice Marialyn Barnard, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice

PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS CONDITIONALLY GRANTED

KAREN ANGELINI, JUSTICE

Real party in interest, JB Oil & Gas Well Service, Inc., filed a motion for rehearing on December 5, 2013. The motion is denied. However, this court's November 20, 2013, opinion is withdrawn and the following opinion is substituted to clarify the court's reasoning.

On October 7, 2013 relator Archer Directional Drilling Services LLC filed a petition for writ of mandamus complaining of the Dimmitt County District Court's order denying Archer's plea in abatement to allow an earlier filed Harris County suit to proceed under dominant jurisdiction. We conclude the trial court abused its discretion in denying the plea in abatement and conditionally grant mandamus relief.

BACKGROUND

The real party in interest in this original proceeding, JB Oil & Gas Well Service, Inc., is a well operator with its principal office in Frio County. Archer Directional Drilling Services is a drilling company with its principal office in Harris County. The parties entered into a drilling agreement in 2012 for Archer to conduct drilling operations on the Cordigo Naranja Well No. 1 H, located in Dimmitt County. Drilling began on the project in August 2012, but was halted soon after due to hole problems and over-budget costs. The cause of the drilling problems and which party is at fault are disputed.

Archer invoiced JB for the total cost of work completed on the well, of which JB paid only a portion. On October 18, 2012, JB sent Archer a letter advising of potential claims for breach of contract, negligence and violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act related to the failed drilling project. JB notified Archer of its intent to pursue those claims if the matter was not resolved within sixty days. See Tex. Bus. & Com. Code Ann. § 17.505(a) (West 2011) (requiring sixty days' written notice as a prerequisite to filing suit for damages under the DTPA). Archer admits receiving JB's notice letter on October 18.

Archer filed suit for breach of contract and declaratory judgment relief in Harris County on November 21, 2012. In its petition, Archer sought declarations that the parties' contract was binding and enforceable, that JB's sole remedy for any complaints regarding Archer's performance was to release Archer without notice, and that JB — not Archer — was responsible and liable for any damages incurred as a result of the drilling problems under the terms of the parties' drilling agreement. Archer also sought to recover the unpaid amounts under the contract, as well as costs of suit, interest and attorneys' fees.

JB filed suit for negligence, gross negligence, violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act, breach of contract, breach of express warranty and breach of implied warranty in Dimmitt

County on December 26, 2012, more than sixty days after sending its DTPA notice letter. Approximately three weeks later, Archer filed a motion to transfer venue, plea in abatement and answer in the Dimmit County suit asserting that Harris County had dominant jurisdiction because of its earlier filed suit.

During the spring and early summer of 2013, the parties engaged in discovery in the Harris County suit. The Harris County court denied JB's motions to transfer venue and to dismiss the Harris County suit and, on February 19, 2013, set Archer's case for trial in January 2014.

On September 11, 2013, the Dimmitt County case was scheduled for trial in December 2013. A hearing on Archer's plea in abatement was held on September 30, 2013. The Dimmitt County court denied Archer's plea in abatement, finding that Archer was guilty of inequitable conduct and had acted in bad faith. Archer contends in this mandamus proceeding that the ...


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