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In re Mesa Petroleum Partners, LP

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District, El Paso

November 9, 2017

IN RE: MESA PETROLEUM PARTNERS, LP, RELATOR.

         AN ORIGINAL PROCEEDING IN MANDAMUS

          Before McClure, C.J., Rodriguez, and Palafox, JJ.

          OPINION

          YVONNE T. RODRIGUEZ, Justice

         Mesa Petroleum Partners, LP (Mesa), has filed a mandamus petition against the Honorable Mike Swanson, Judge of the 143rd District Court of Reeves County, Texas. Mesa requests that the Court direct Respondent to render a final judgment in cause number 15-04-20996-CVR, styled Mesa Petroleum Partners, LP v. Baytech LLP, J. Cleo Thompson and James Cleo Thompson, Jr., LP, and Delaware Basin Resources LLC. We conditionally grant mandamus relief and direct the trial court to render final judgment within thirty days.

         FACTUAL SUMMARY

         This original proceeding arises from a suit filed by Mesa against Baytech LLP, J. Cleo Thompson and James Cleo Thompson, Jr., LP (collectively JCT), and Delaware Basin Resources LLC (DBR). Mesa alleged in the pleadings that it entered into a Participation Agreement (PA) giving Mesa the right to a 15 percent ownership interest in an Area of Mutual Interest (AMI) known as the Red Bull located in Reeves and Pecos Counties. According to the pleadings, Mesa executed the PA and the Red Bull Joint Operating Agreement and paid its participation fee. Mesa's suit alleges that the operating company transferred Mesa's 15% interest to Baytech, and Baytech, in turn, transferred that interest to DBR. The suit stated claims for breach of contract, fraud, fraudulent concealment, breaches of fiduciary duties, tortious interference with contracts, conspiracy, conversion and trespass. The trial court granted summary judgment on all claims except for breach of contract, and the case proceeded to a jury trial which began on October 31, 2016. The court submitted the case to the jury on November 22, 2016, and the jury found Baytech and DBR liable for breach of the Participation Agreement, and found JCT liable for breach of the Joint Operating Agreement. The jury also found JCT guilty of gross negligence and willful misconduct. The jury awarded damages and attorney's fees to Mesa in the total amount of approximately $145 million.

         On December 16, 2016, Mesa filed its motion for judgment based on the jury's verdict, and it attached a proposed final judgment to the motion. JCT, Baytech, and DBR filed motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and responses to Mesa's motion for judgment. Mesa also filed responses to the JNOV motions. On February 27, 2017, the trial court conducted a hearing which lasted approximately five hours on all of the post-verdict motions, and it gave the parties additional time to submit post-hearing briefing. All post-hearing briefs and written objections were filed by March 28, 2017. There are two pending cases related to the underlying case: (1) Mesa Petroleum Partners, LP v. Oxy USA WTP LP, cause number P-11989-112-CV, pending in the 112th District Court of Pecos County, Texas; and (2) Mesa Petroleum Partners, LP v. Oxy USA WTP LP, cause number 16-08-21618-CVR, pending in the 143rd District Court of Reeves County, Texas. Mesa filed these suits against Oxy USA WTP (Oxy) to clear title to Mesa's Red Bull properties which Oxy purchased in 2013 and 2016 from DBR, JCT, and others. Over Mesa's objection, Respondent granted Oxy's request for a stay of all proceedings in the Reeves County case. The 112th District Court initially took Oxy's motion under advisement pending entry of judgment in the underlying case, but on October 18, 2017, that court denied Oxy's motion for a stay.

         T. Boone Pickens is the principal of Mesa and he was a key witness in the underlying case. The mandamus petition relates that Mr. Pickens is eighty-nine years' of age and in declining health due to a series of strokes suffered at the end of trial and the subsequent months. In its letters to the trial court, Mesa has advised Respondent regarding Mr. Pickens' health concerns. It has been almost one year since the jury rendered its verdict, more than eight months since the post-trial motions hearing, and more than seven months since the parties submitted their briefs on the post-verdict motions, but the trial court has not yet rendered its judgment.

         Failure to Render Judgment

         In its sole issue, Mesa argues that it is entitled to mandamus relief because Respondent has failed to render judgment within a reasonable time after the trial on the merits was completed.

         Mandamus Standard

         Generally, mandamus relief is appropriate only to correct a clear abuse of discretion or to compel the performance of a ministerial duty, and where the relator has no adequate remedy by appeal. In re Reece, 341 S.W.3d 360, 364 (Tex. 2011)(orig. proceeding); In re Prudential Insurance Company of America, 148 S.W.3d 124, 135-36 (Tex. 2004)(orig. proceeding). The relator bears the burden of demonstrating it is entitled to mandamus relief. See In re Ford Motor Company, 165 S.W.3d 315, 317 (Tex. 2005)(orig. proceeding); Walker v. Packer, 827 S.W.2d 833, 837 (Tex.1992)(orig. proceeding).

         To obtain mandamus relief based on a trial court's failure to perform a ministerial duty, the relator must show that the trial court: (1) had a legal duty to perform a non-discretionary act; (2) was asked to perform that act; and (3) refused to do so. See O'Connor v. First Court of Appeals, 837 S.W.2d 94, 97 (Tex. 1992)(orig. proceeding). The Rules of Civil Procedure require a court to render a judgment following a jury trial. Tex.R.Civ.P. 300, 301. Where no irreconcilable conflict exists in a jury's findings, the trial court has a ministerial duty to enter a judgment on the verdict. Traywick v. Goodrich, 364 S.W.2d 190, 191 (Tex. 1963). A trial court's failure to proceed to judgment within a reasonable time deprives the parties of an adequate remedy at law including the right to accept or appeal the judgment. Hunt Energy Corporation v. Pirtle, No. 07-96-0257-CV, 1996 WL 671398, at *2 (Tex.App.--Amarillo November 20, 1996, orig. proceeding)(not designated for publication). Consequently, mandamus relief is available if a trial court has failed to enter judgment within a reasonable time. See Texas State Board of Examiners in Optometry v. Carp, 388 S.W.2d 409, 417 (Tex. 1965)(writ of mandamus will issue to compel trial court to proceed to judgment); Kissam v. Williamson, 545 S.W.2d 265, 267 (Tex.Civ.App.--Tyler 1976, orig. proceeding)(compelling trial court to proceed to trial and judgment). What constitutes a reasonable time depends on the facts and circumstances of the particular case. In re Salazar, 134 S.W.3d 357, 358 (Tex.App.--Waco 2003, orig. proceeding).

         Duty to Enter Judgment on ...


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