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Stone v. J.W. Resources, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

November 9, 2017


         On Appeal from the 69th District Court Sherman County, Texas Trial Court No. 5033; Honorable Ronald E. Enns, Presiding.

          Before QUINN, C.J., and CAMPBELL and PIRTLE, JJ.


          Patrick A. Pirtle, Justice

         This is a land rights case wherein Appellants, Jody Stone and his wife, Brenda Stone, were denied a permanent injunction against Appellee, J.W. Resources, Inc., following a bench trial. The Stones had sought to shut down a saltwater disposal well located on their property based on the alleged failure of J.W. Resources, Inc. to fulfill its obligations under the rules and regulations of the United States Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") to prepare and implement a Spill Prevention and Control Plan. By a single issue restated four different ways, the Stones contend the trial court abused its discretion by refusing to issue the permanent injunction requested. We affirm.


         The Stones are the owners of the surface estate of two tracts of ranchland located in Sherman County, Texas, containing 431 acres, more or less. The Stones operate a cow-calf operation on that land. The land itself contains part of the North Palo Duro Creek, a part of the watershed of the Palo Duro dam and reservoir located in Hansford County.

         At the time the Stones acquired the property, it was subject to the terms and provisions of a saltwater disposal lease, [1] as well as an oil and gas lease. For several years, the disposal well was a source of irritation to the Stones, with the main complaint being the inadequacy of the dikes constructed around saltwater retention facilities. The Stones maintain the dikes were inadequately designed and maintained, thereby allowing contaminants to pollute their property. As a result of these problems, the Stones filed suit seeking monetary damages and injunctive relief. They subsequently abandoned all claims except their claim for injunctive relief. During the course of discovery, the Stones requested production of "[a]ll spill prevention control and counter measure plan or plans as required by the Environmental Protection Agency . . . . " During the deposition of J.W. Resources, Inc.'s corporate representative, Joe W. Watkins, testimony was given that an EPA compliant plan was in place. Despite the representation of counsel that those plans would subsequently be produced, no efforts were made to compel their production and no plans were ever provided. At trial, Watkins again testified that an EPA mandated Spill Prevention and Control Plan for the disposal well was in place.

         At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court initially deferred its ruling, but later issued a letter denying the requested injunctive relief. In its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, the trial court found J.W. Resources, Inc. to be in compliance with both EPA and Texas Railroad Commission rules and regulations.

         Presented as four "points of error, " the Stones contend the trial court erred when it denied injunctive relief because the evidence was legally ("point of error one") and factually ("point of error two") insufficient to establish compliance with the applicable EPA regulations mandating a Spill Prevention and Control Plan. The Stones further contend the trial court abused its discretion by denying injunctive relief ("point of error three") and that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the trial court's conclusions of law 8, 9, 11, and 13 pertaining to the denial of their requested injunctive relief ("point of error four"). We will address all four points of error together under the general discussion of whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying injunctive relief.

         Injunctive Relief

         An injunction is an extraordinary remedy, the purpose of which is to preserve the status quo so as to prevent future damages. Walling v. Metcalfe, 863 S.W.2d 56, 57 (Tex. 1993). To be entitled to injunctive relief, the Stones had the burden to plead and prove three specific elements: (1) the existence of a wrongful act by the party to be enjoined; (2) a probable right to the relief sought; and (3) the likelihood of imminent and irreparable injury. Butnaru v. Ford Motor Co., 84 S.W.3d 198, 204 (Tex. 2002). An injury is irreparable if the injured party cannot be adequately compensated by the recovery of monetary damages or if the damages cannot be measured by any certain pecuniary standard. Id.

         Standard of Review

         The decision to grant or deny an injunction rests within the sound discretion of the trial court. Id. As such, we review the denial of an application for a permanent injunction under an abuse of discretion standard. See Operation Rescue-Nat'l v. Planned Parenthood, 975 S.W.2d 546, 560 (Tex. 1998). Under an abuse of discretion standard, legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence are not independent grounds of error, but are instead relevant factors for this court to assess in determining whether the trial court abused its discretion. Henry v. Henry, 48 S.W.3d 468, 475 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 2001, no pet.). In that regard, a trial court abuses its discretion by ruling without supporting evidence. Ford Motor Co. v. Garcia, 363 S.W.3d 573, 578 (Tex. 2012). The test for abuse of discretion is whether the trial court acted without reference to any guiding ...

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