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Godines v. Parsley Energy Operations, LLC

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eleventh District

May 31, 2018


          On Appeal from the 238th District Court Midland County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 52258

          Panel consists of: Willson, J., Bailey, J., and Wright, S.C.J. [9]



         Amando Godines, Sr., an employee of Precision Drilling Company, L.P., died in an accident at a Parsley Energy Operations, LLC's well site named "Hall 11-4." After Godines's death, his wife, Diana Godines, individually and on behalf of her husband, and Godines's biological children (collectively Appellants) brought suit against Parsley for negligence and gross negligence.

         Parsley answered and filed a hybrid no-evidence and traditional motion for summary judgment. On no-evidence grounds, Parsley asserted that no evidence existed that it owed any legal duty to Godines and that Appellants could not establish the subjective and objective elements of gross negligence. On traditional grounds, Parsley asserted that it owed no legal duty to Godines and that, as a "property owner, " Parsley was immune from liability pursuant to Chapter 95 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code.[1]

         The trial court granted Parsley's motion on both no-evidence and traditional grounds. Appellants appeal the trial court's grant of summary judgment in Parsley's favor. We affirm.

         I. Summary Judgment Evidence

         At the time of the incident, Parsley owned the mineral interest at Hall 11-4. In order to produce the minerals, Parsley contracted with Precision under an "International Association of Drilling Contractors Drilling Bid Proposal and Daywork Drilling Contract" to be its drilling contractor. The drilling contract required Precision to initially drill at Parsley's other well site, "JRS Farms 24A-3, " and to furnish the rig for drilling-Rig 305. Eventually, Precision was directed to begin drilling at Hall 11-4. It was necessary for Rig 305 to be transported from the previous well site to Hall 11-4, and based on the drilling contract, Parsley assumed the responsibility of transportation of Rig 305.

         Parsley contracted with J.W. Mulloy to serve as the "company man."[2] Mulloy assigned Freddie Pontremoli to be one of the company man representatives. Pontremoli described his duties as:

Well, I -- drill the wells. I tell the people on the -- on the rig how to drill these wells. Like -- per se like how much weight to run on the bit, how many RPM to turn the rotary table and how far we drill for each section to surface, intermediate and production stream. That's my job.

         Pontremoli also "agreed" to the following deposition questions:

Q: Okay. As a consultant for Parsley, what -- it would be your duty and responsibility to make sure that locations are set up properly so you can get the rig set up, start drilling, get the drilling completed and then move on to the next site and just re-create that process from drill hole to drill hole to drill hole.
Q: Okay. And as the consultant, you would have to make sure that all those different contractors that are out there providing services to Parsley, that they move in concert and act in concert to get the drills completed and move on to the next well to drill?

         Parsley contracted with Briley Trucking Company to fulfill that obligation. Briley provided "[a]ll equipment, materials and supplies" for the rig move. Precision, per the drilling contract, was required to help Briley with the "move in" and "move out" process, including "rig up" once the rig was transported to the well site.

         Rig 305 consists, in part, of a three-part telescoping mast. Briley transported the mast to the Hall 11-4 using the "two trucking" method. Under that method, the three parts of the mast were partially nested together and laid down horizontally on two trailers, each of which was connected to a semi-tractor. The crown section of the mast was nested inside the middle section, and the weight of the crown rested on a fifth wheel that was located on one of the trucks. Pins were used to hold the crown and middle section in place during transportation. The driver of one of the trucks drove in reverse, and the other drove forward; in this manner, they delivered the mast to the new well site.

         A Briley employee, the "truck pusher, " suggested the two-trucking method. Roger Dean Moran, Precision's rig superintendent, was in Alice, Texas, at the time but approved the two-trucking method by phone. Parsley's drilling superintendents, Joey Sims and David Brandenburg, made no recommendations or determinations on how Rig 305 should be transported and did not supervise transportation or assembly of the rig.

         The mast was safely transported to the Hall 11-4. Once it was there, Briley and Precision worked to set up the other components of Rig 305, particularly the substructure where the mast would be placed, with the ultimate goal of removing the mast from the tractor-trailers.

         At some point, the Briley truck pusher received a call on his radio[3] asking whether they were "ready to . . . open up the derrick." The Briley truck pusher subsequently walked toward the mast and picked up a sledgehammer. Godines, who was nearby, then had a conversation with the truck pusher.[4] After this conversation, Godines crawled underneath the mast and subsequently removed one of the pins from the mast with a sledgehammer. Normally, in this part of the operation, pole trucks or a crane are used to provide support for the mast while the pins are removed; here, no crane or pole truck was used to support the mast. When the one pin was removed, the pin on the opposite side of the mast fractured and a section of the mast shifted and fell. Godines was pinned between the fifth wheel on one of the trucks and the section that fell. Godines died as a result of the injuries that he suffered in the accident.

         Pontremoli was the only "representative" of Parsley on site when Godines was fatally injured. He arrived about thirty minutes before the accident occurred and went to his trailer on site. At the time of the accident, Pontremoli was still in his trailer. Pontremoli did not know who gave the instruction to remove the mast pin.

         II. Issues Presented

         On appeal, Appellants raise eight issues. Appellant's first issue is a global issue related to the summary judgment. In the next four issues, Appellants contest the application of Chapter 95. Appellants argue in their second issue that the trial court erred when it applied Chapter 95. They assert in their third, fourth, and fifth issues that, even if Chapter 95 applies, there is a genuine issue of material fact that pertains to the exception under Section 95.003 relating to Parsley's control and actual knowledge, respectively. In their sixth and seventh issues, Appellants allege that there is evidence that raises a genuine issue of material fact on whether Parsley owed Godines a legal duty. In Appellants' eighth issue, they claim there is evidence that raises a genuine issue of material fact on their gross negligence claim.

         III. Standards of Review

         We review a summary judgment de novo. Travelers Ins. Co. v. Joachim, 315 S.W.3d 860, 862 (Tex. 2010). A trial court must grant a no-evidence motion for summary judgment unless the nonmovant produces more than a scintilla of probative evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact. Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(i); Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Rodriguez, 92 S.W.3d 502, 506 (Tex. 2002). A no-evidence motion for summary judgment is essentially a pretrial directed verdict, and we apply the same legal sufficiency standard in reviewing a no-evidence summary judgment as we apply in reviewing a directed verdict. King Ranch, Inc. v. Chapman, 118 S.W.3d 742, 750-51 (Tex. 2003). We review the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, disregarding all contrary evidence and inferences. Id. A defendant who moves for traditional summary judgment must either negate at least one essential element of the nonmovant's cause of action or prove all essential elements of an affirmative defense. Randall's Food Mkts., Inc. v. Johnson, 891 S.W.2d 640, 644 (Tex. 1995). Once the defendant establishes a right to summary judgment as a matter of law, the burden shifts to the plaintiffs to present evidence raising a genuine issue of material fact. City of Houston v. Clear Creek Basin Auth., 589 S.W.2d 671, 678- 79 (Tex. 1979). To determine if a fact question exists, we must consider whether reasonable and fair-minded jurors could differ in their ...

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