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Bedell v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

December 19, 2017

Deecye Clayton Bedell, a/k/a D. C. Bedell, d/b/a D. B. Oil Company, Appellant
v.
The State of Texas, Appellee

         FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF TRAVIS COUNTY, 98TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT NO. D-1-GV-10-001226, HONORABLE LORA J. LIVINGSTON, JUDGE PRESIDING

          Before Chief Justice Rose, Justices Field and Bourland.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Jeff Rose, Chief Justice.

         The State of Texas sued Deecye Clayton Bedell to collect administrative penalties the Texas Railroad Commission assessed against Bedell for violations of safety and pollution-control requirements and to recover State money paid to plug abandoned oil and gas wells. After the district court granted partial summary judgment to the State as to administrative penalties and liability for civil penalties and attorney fees, the parties tried the remaining issues (the amount of civil penalties and attorney fees due) to a jury. Based on the jury's finding that the State was entitled to zero civil penalties and $50, 000 in attorney fees, the district court rendered final judgment awarding the State $28, 000 in administrative penalties, $260, 740.41 as plugging reimbursement, and $50, 000 as attorney fees. On appeal, Bedell raises issues regarding the trial court's jurisdiction, the validity of the Railroad Commission's administrative order, and the jury charge. We will affirm the judgment.

         Background

         In a 2002 final order, the Railroad Commission assessed $28, 000 in administrative penalties against Bedell for violations of safety and pollution-control requirements related to oil and gas wells and ordered Bedell to plug the wells at issue. The hearing examiner's proposal for decision, which was incorporated in full into the Railroad Commission's final order, included, among other matters, the following findings of fact:

• Bedell had notice of the administrative proceeding;
• Bedell had designated himself as the operator of the wells at issue in the administrative proceeding;
• the wells were not in compliance with Railroad Commission rules and regulations; and
• if left unplugged, the wells were likely to result in pollution.

         The proposal for decision also noted that "Respondent Bedell appeared by telephone and presented testimony at the hearing, " and the Railroad Commission's final order additionally found that the hearing had been held "after statutory notice." After Bedell failed to comply with its final order, the Railroad Commission paid $198, 385.75 to plug the wells.

         In 2010, the State filed suit on behalf of the Railroad Commission to recover the money spent by the Railroad Commission to plug the wells, the $28, 000 in administrative penalties assessed by the Railroad Commission, civil penalties, attorney fees, and court costs. Bedell answered that he is not liable in the capacity in which he is sued, that he did not execute the documents by which he was deemed responsible for the wells, and that there is a defect of parties. He further asserted that he did not receive notice of the administrative hearing, did not participate in the administrative hearing, and did not authorize anyone else to be his agent for service. He argued that the Commission's order for payment and plugging was issued against him when he was not an oil and gas operator and did not own or operate the relevant lease.[1]

         The State filed a motion for partial summary judgment on its entitlement to administrative penalties, civil penalties, plugging expenses, costs, and attorney fees, leaving for trial the determination of the amount of civil penalties, pre-judgment interest on the plugging fees, post-judgment interest, and attorney fees. As summary-judgment evidence, the State attached authenticated documents from the administrative record, including the proposal for decision, the administrative final order, a handwritten letter from "D C Bedell" requesting to appear at the administrative hearing by telephone, and a "Notice of Intent to Appear" signed by Judy Bedell on behalf of Deecye Clayton Bedell.

         Bedell replied to the State's motion for summary judgment by asserting that his father (Deecye Bruce Bedell) is the owner of the company and the operator of the lease and that "persons who are not parties to this proceeding [were] filing documents under [appellant's] name, signing his name, and purporting to act as his agent without his ...


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