IN RE TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS PIPELINE COMPANY, LLC, THE WILLIAMS COMPANIES, INC., WILLIAMS PARTNERS L.P., AND BLACK MARLIN PIPELINE LLC; FURMANITE CORPORATION, FURMANITE AMERICA, INC., AND FURMANITE WORLDWIDE, INC.; DANOS & CUROLE MARINE CONTRACTORS, LLC; ES&H, INC., AND ENVIRONMENTAL SAFETY & HEALTH CONSULTING SERVICES, INC., Relators
PROCEEDING WRIT OF MANDAMUS 127th District Court Harris
County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2015-62416
consists of Justices Christopher, Brown, and Wise.
Thursday, June 08, 2017, relators "the Williams
Defendants" (Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company, LLC
or "Transco, " The Williams Companies, Inc., and
Williams Partners L.P.), "the Furmanite Defendants"
(Furmanite Corporation, Furmanite America, Inc., and
Furmanite Worldwide, Inc.), "the ES&H
Defendants" (ES&H, Inc. and Environmental Safety
& Health Consulting Services, Inc.), "Danos"
(Danos & Curole Marine Contractors, LLC), and Black
Marlin Pipeline LLC ("Black Marlin") filed a
petition for writ of mandamus in this Court. See
Tex. R. App. P. 52; Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 22.221
(West Supp. 2017). In the petition, the relators ask this
Court to compel the Honorable R. K. Sandill, presiding judge
of the 127th District Court of Harris County, to vacate its
ruling partially denying their respective motions to dismiss
for forum non conveniens and to instead grant the motions in
conclude that the trial court did not clearly abuse its
discretion in denying the motions to dismiss as they pertain
to the claims of real party in interest Paula Rhodes. A trial
court is prohibited from dismissing, on the ground of forum
non conveniens, the claims of a Texas resident, and the
evidence supports the trial court's implied finding that
Rhodes continuously resided in Texas at all relevant times,
despite a temporary absence from the state. As to the
remaining real parties in interest, we conclude that the
evidence concerning the factors that must be considered when
evaluating a forum non conveniens motion weigh overwhelming
in favor of dismissal, and thus, the trial court clearly
abused its discretion in denying the motions to dismiss as to
those parties. We accordingly deny in part, and conditionally
grant in part, the relators' petition for writ of
a personal-injury case arising from an explosion and fire
that occurred on October 8, 2015, at Compressor Station 62 in
Gibson, Louisiana. The Station 62 facility receives
unprocessed natural gas via pipeline from numerous offshore
producers in the Gulf of Mexico. The incident occurred during
a scheduled maintenance and clean-out of the slug catcher,
which separates the incoming gas and liquids on site.
the maintenance project, the facility was shut down and the
slug catcher was isolated from hazardous vapors so that
sludge accumulating inside the 42-inch diameter "liquids
distribution header" could be removed. In preparation
for the work, Transco employees prepared a Gas Handling Plan
to isolate the structure. The Gas Handling Plan called for
depressurization and draining of the gas and liquids in the
slug catcher, followed by installation of air movers to purge
it with fresh air. The Gas Handling Plan was based on the
plan used during the last scheduled maintenance in 2010 and
had been modified to address a change in the work scope that
included replacement of a three-inch water dump line flange
on the west end of the header. The work plan for the repairs
themselves was a new plan, and it called for the use of
inflatable bladders to isolate the header during "hot
work" around the flange faces and the use of a plumbers
plug at the site of the flange replacement. Subcontractor
Danos was to assist with the cleaning and flange replacement,
and it had further subcontracted some of the work, such as
installing the bladders, with one of the Furmanite
night of October 7, 2015, Transco operations supervisor John
Turchin emailed personnel at Williams, Danos, and ES&H
about the status of the project. He stated that the south
header had been cleaned and that air bladders had been
installed to the work on the flange needing repair. He added
that a three-inch flange on the east end of the header was
inspected and found to have excessive corrosion, and that the
flange would be replaced the next day.
Danos welder struck an arc at the site of the three-inch
flange on the east side of the header the next morning,
vapors inside the header ignited. The explosion ejected the
bladders, which struck and killed Danos employees Samuel
Brinlee and Casey Ordoyne. Furmanite employee Jason Phillippe
died from injuries sustained in the ensuing fire. Danos
employees Wayne Plaisance Jr. and Walter Kidder survived
incident was investigated by the U.S. Department of
Transportation's Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety
Administration ("PHMSA"), among others. Transco,
the owner and operator of the facility, performed its own
investigation described in its "Root Cause
Analysis." Both PHMSA and Transco concluded that the
reliance on an earlier Gas Handling Plan and the placement of
air movers and inflatable bladders had resulted in an
insufficient purge of hazardous vapors from the work areas.
wrongful-death and personal-injury suits were filed in
Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, where the incident occurred.
Those suits were consolidated for discovery and trial. This
suit, however, was filed in Harris County, Texas, by the
1. Louisiana resident Wayne Plaisance Jr., who seeks damages
for his personal injuries;
2. Louisiana resident Walter Kidder, who seeks damages for
his personal injuries;
3. Louisiana resident Judy Ordoyne, who seeks damages for the
death of her son, Louisiana resident Casey Ordoyne;
4. North Carolina residents Kristine Phillippe, Nash
Phillippe, Knox Phillippe, Memphis Phillippe, Susan White,
and Albert White, and Illinois resident Michael Phillippe,
all of whom seek damages for the death of Illinois resident
5. Louisiana resident Richard Brinlee, who seeks damages for
the death of his son, Louisiana resident Samuel Brinlee;
6. Samuel Brinlee's mother Paula Rhodes, whose residency
is disputed, and who seeks damages for his death; and
7. Samuel Brinlee's daughter, Illinois resident Alisa
Evans, who seeks damages for her father's death.
defendants moved to dismiss the case pursuant to the Texas
forum non conveniens statute. See Tex. Civ. Prac.
& Rem. Code Ann. § 71.051 (West Supp. 2017). After
initially granting their respective motions, the trial court
emailed questions to the parties about the residency of
plaintiff Paula Rhodes. Before the parties responded, the
trial court vacated the order granting the motions to dismiss
and set a "status conference." At the status
conference, the parties presented further argument for and
against the motions to dismiss. The trial court then denied
the motions to dismiss as to all plaintiffs except Alisa
Evans. The relators, defendants, below, ask us to
compel the trial court to grant their motions as to the
remaining plaintiffs. We stayed further proceedings pending
our decision on the merits.
relators argue that the trial court abused its discretion in
changing its original order granting their motion to dismiss
for forum non conveniens, because (1) Rhodes's move to
Texas after the forum non conveniens motion was filed is not
grounds for maintaining any plaintiff's action in Texas,
(2) the evidence relevant to the factors to be considered in
deciding the motion weighs overwhelmingly in favor of the
dismissal of each plaintiff's action, and (3) the trial
court changed its initial ruling without new arguments or
Standard of Review
obtain mandamus relief, a relator generally must demonstrate
that the trial court clearly abused its discretion and that
the relator has no adequate remedy by appeal. See In re
Reece, 341 S.W.3d 360, 364 (Tex. 2011) (orig.
proceeding). Under this standard of review, we defer to the
trial court's factual determinations that are supported
by evidence, but we review the trial court's legal
determinations de novo. See In re Labatt Food Serv.,
L.P., 279 S.W.3d 640, 643 (Tex. 2009) (orig.
proceeding). A trial court clearly abuses its discretion if
it reaches a decision so arbitrary and unreasonable as to
amount to a clear and prejudicial error of law, or if it
clearly fails to analyze the law correctly or apply the law
correctly to the facts. See In re Cerberus Capital Mgmt.
L.P., 164 S.W.3d 379, 382 (Tex. 2005) (orig. proceeding)
(per curiam). If the trial court abuses its discretion in
denying a forum non conveniens motion, the movant has no
adequate remedy by appeal. See In re Gen. Elec. Co.,
271 S.W.3d 681, 685 (Tex. 2008) (orig. proceeding); In re
Pirelli Tire, L.L.C., 247 S.W.3d 670, 679 (Tex. 2007)
(orig. proceeding) (plurality op.).
personal-injury and wrongful-death actions, forum non
conveniens motions are governed by Texas Civil Practice and
Remedies Code section 71.051. Under the statute, the level of
deference afforded to a plaintiff's choice of forum
depends upon whether the plaintiff is a Texas resident.
Claims of a Texas resident, or of a derivative claimant of a
Texas resident, may not be dismissed on the ground of forum
non conveniens. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code
Ann. § 71.051(e). If the plaintiff is not a Texas
resident, or a derivative claimant of a Texas resident, then
the court applies a six-factor test in determining whether to
grant a motion to stay or dismiss the claim or action.
Id. § 71.051(b). In applying the forum non
conveniens factors, "[a] trial court has no discretion
in determining what the law is or in applying the law to the
particular facts." In re Mantle Oil & Gas,
LLC, 426 S.W.3d 182, 187 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.]
2012, orig. proceeding). Where, as here, no findings of fact
and conclusions of law were issued or requested as to the
portion of the trial court's ruling partially denying the
motion, we imply all factual findings in support of the trial
court's ruling if such findings are supported by the
Claims of Purported Texas Resident Paula Rhodes
Rhodes asserted in her live pleading that she is a Texas
resident, and she asserted claims arising from the death of
her son, Louisiana resident Samuel Brinlee. According to the
relators, the trial court clearly abused its discretion in
denying their motion to dismiss her claims because (a) Rhodes
is a derivative claimant, and thus, it is her son's
residency that matters rather than her own; and (b) she was
not a Texas resident at any time relevant to the forum non
The Trial Court Properly Considered Rhodes's
to the relators, the trial court could consider only
Rhodes's deceased son's residency when determining
whether the statute prohibited the trial court from
dismissing her claims on the ground of forum non conveniens.
This argument concerns the proper construction of Texas Civil
Practice and Remedies Code section 71.051. The construction
of a statute is a question of law, which we review de novo.
See TIC Energy & Chem., Inc. v. Martin, 498
S.W.3d 68, 74 (Tex. 2016). Our goal in construing a statute
is to give effect to the legislature's intent as
expressed in the statute's language. See id. A
statute's clear and unambiguous language is determinative
of the legislature's intent. See id. If the
statute defines a term, then we must construe the statute
using the definition supplied by the legislature and take
into account any technical or particular meaning the words
have acquired. See Harris Cty. Appraisal Dist. v. Tex.
Workforce Comm'n, 519 S.W.3d 113, 128 (Tex. 2017).
If the statue does not supply a term's definition, then
we must "determine a term's plain or ordinary
meaning, " unless a different meaning is apparent from
the statute's language. Id. at 128-29 (quoting
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Forte, 497 S.W.3d 460, 471
the forum non conveniens statute, "[t]he court may not
stay or dismiss a plaintiff's claim . . . if the
plaintiff is a legal resident of this state or a
derivative claimant of a legal resident of this state."
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 71.051(e)
(emphasis added). Because Paula Rhodes seeks recovery of
damages for the wrongful death of her son, she is both a
"plaintiff" and a "derivative claimant"
as those terms are used in the statute. See Tex.
Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 71.051(h)(2) (defining
"Plaintiff" as "a party seeking recovery of
damages for personal injury or wrongful death");
id. § 71.051(h)(1) (defining "Derivative
claimant" as "a person whose damages were caused by
personal injury to or the wrongful death of another").
stating the grounds on which a trial court is prohibited from
dismissing a plaintiff's claim for forum non conveniens,
the statute uses the disjunctive "or, " which means
that the terms that precede and follow it are alternatives.
See City of Dallas v. TCI W. End, Inc., 463 S.W.3d
53, 58 (Tex. 2015) (per curiam) ("The statute's use
of 'or, ' a disjunctive, identifies two alternative
bases . . . ."). Thus, the trial court is barred from
dismissing a plaintiff's claims if the plaintiff is
either (1) a legal resident of this state,
or (2) a derivative claimant of a legal resident of
this state. Under the statute's unambiguous language, the
trial court could not dismiss Rhodes's claims if either
she or her son was a legal resident of this state. The trial
court therefore did not clearly abuse its discretion in
considering Rhodes's residency.
The Trial Court's Determination of Rhodes's
Residency is Supported by the
relators next contend that the trial court abused its
discretion in determining that Rhodes is a Texas resident.
The relators rely on evidence that Rhodes was living in
Illinois when the incident occurred, when she joined the
suit, and even when the relators' motions to dismiss were
filed, but moved to Texas before the trial court heard and
ruled on the motions. The relators argue that the trial court
erroneously determined Rhodes's residency as of the time
the trial court ruled on the motion, and that the trial court
instead should have relied on Rhodes's residency as of
the date the incident occurred or the date she joined the
not determine which date should be used in determining a
plaintiff's residency because there is evidence that
Rhodes was continuously a Texas resident from at least July
2012-more than three years before the incident. We arrive at
this conclusion based on the meaning of the term "legal
resident" in the forum non conveniens statute.
statute prohibits dismissal of a plaintiff's claims on
forum non conveniens grounds if the plaintiff is a
"legal resident" of Texas. When the forum non
conveniens statute was first enacted in 1993, it defined
"legal resident" as "a person who intends the
specified political subdivision to be his permanent residence
and who intends to return to the specified political
subdivision despite temporary residence elsewhere or despite
temporary absences, without regard to the person's
country of citizenship or national origin." Act of Feb.
23, 1993, 73d Leg., R.S., ch. 4, § 1, sec. 71.051(j)(1),
1993 Tex. Gen. Laws 10, 12. The definition of "legal
resident" was deleted from the statute less than four
months before the incident at Station 62. See Act of
May 22, 2015, 84th Leg., R.S., ch. 537, § 1, sec.
71.051(h)(1), 2015 Tex. Gen. Laws 1918, 1918.
the statute no longer defines "legal resident, "
"the common, ordinary meaning of the term applies unless
a contrary meaning is apparent from the statute's
language or the common meaning would lead to absurd or
nonsensical results." Harris Cty. Appraisal
Dist., 519 S.W.3d at 121-22 (citing Tex. Gov't Code
Ann. § 311.011(a) (West 2013) ("Words and phrases
shall be read in context and construed according to the rules
of grammar and common usage.")). When ascertaining the
meaning of a statute's undefined terms, "we
typically look first to their dictionary definitions and then
consider the term's usage in other statutes, court
decisions, and similar authorities." Id. at 129
(quoting Tex. State Bd. of Exam'rs of Marriage &
Family Therapists v. Tex. Med. Ass'n, 511 S.W.3d 28,
35 (Tex. 2017)).
Law Dictionary defines "legal" as
"[c]onforming to the law; according to law; required or
permitted by law; not forbidden or discountenanced by law;
good and effectual in law; of or pertaining to the law;
lawful." Legal, Black's Law Dictionary (6th
ed. 1990). The New Oxford American Dictionary similarly
defines "legal" as "permitted by law."
New Oxford American Dictionary 997 (Angus Stevenson &
Christine Lindberg eds., 3d ed. 2010).
Black's Law Dictionary defines "resident" in
Any person who occupies a dwelling within the State, has a
present intent to remain within the State for a period of
time, and manifests the genuineness of that intent by
establishing an ongoing physical presence within the State
together with indicia that his presence within the State is
something other than merely transitory in nature.
Resident, Black's Law Dictionary. Here, too,
this legal definition parallels the common meaning of the
word, for the New Oxford American Dictionary similarly
defines "resident" as "a person who lives
somewhere permanently or on a long-term basis." New
Oxford American Dictionary 1485.
word "resident" also can be used to refer to a
person whose stay is temporary. See Brown v.
Boulden, 18 Tex. 431, 433 (1857) ("A residence is
generally transient in its nature."). Black's Law
Dictionary accordingly includes the following in its
definition of "resident": "The word
'resident' when used as a noun, means a dweller,
habitant or occupant; one who resides or dwells in a place
for a period of more or less, duration; it signifies
one having a residence, or one who resides and abides."
Resident, Black's Law Dictionary (emphasis
"resident" may refer to a person having a lasting
or a temporary residence, a person can have more than one
residence. See Snyder v. Pitts, 150 Tex. 407, 413,
241 S.W.2d 136, 139 (1951). A person "may well live
temporarily in one place while maintaining his residence at
another." Malnar v. Mechell, 91 S.W.3d 924,
928-29 (Tex. App.-Amarillo 2002, no pet.) (citing Owens
Corning v. Carter, 997 S.W.2d 560, 571 (Tex. 1999)).
Rhodes became an Illinois resident during her stay there or
whether she instead continued to be a Texas resident who was
only temporarily absent from the state is "a question of
intent to be proved by declarations and acts."
Snyder, 150 Tex. at 416, 241 S.W.2d at 141; see
also Malnar, 91 S.W.3d at 928.
produced evidence sufficient for the trial court to
reasonably find that she has been a legal resident of Texas
since 2012 and was only temporarily absent from the state for
an eleven-month period. She testified by affidavit that she
moved into her daughter's home in Humble, Texas in July
2012. Rhodes stated that she traveled annually to Illinois to
visit her mother, and that she noticed a decline in her
mother's health in 2014. Rhodes traveled to Illinois in
April 2015 to care for her mother. According to Rhodes,