Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler
from the 3rd District Court of Houston County, Texas
consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Neeley, J.
Land Group, LLC appeals the trial court's order granting
summary judgment in favor of Atmos Energy Corporation. Murphy
Land raises two issues on appeal. We affirm.
Land owns forty-eight acres of land in Houston County, Texas.
The property is burdened by three pipeline
easements. In pertinent part, these express easements
grant Lone Star Gas Company and its successors and assigns
the "right of way and easement to construct, maintain,
and operate pipe lines and appurtenances thereto" along
with "ingress to and egress from the premises, for the
purpose of constructing, inspecting, repairing, maintaining,
and replacing the property of [Lone Star and its successors]
. . . ." Lone Star constructed three pipelines on the
property pursuant to the easements: Line SU in 1953 at
Navarro Crossing; Line L8AEA in 1955; and Line CT-990 in 1964
(collectively, the "pipelines"). Atmos Energy is
the successor-in-interest to Lone Star Gas Company's
rights under the easements. Lone Star and its successor Atmos
Energy have continuously operated the pipelines since their
2, 2012, Murphy Land and Atmos Energy executed a
"Roadway Lease." The Roadway Lease granted to Atmos
Energy "the right of way and easement to construct and
maintain a roadway forty feet (40') in width, on a route
to be selected by [Atmos Energy], together with the right in
said [Atmos Energy] to free and uninterrupted use, liberty,
privilege and easement in, on and over said roadway to extend
on, over, through and across [Murphy Land's 48 acre
tract]." The Roadway Lease expired under its own terms
on May 1, 2015.
Land believed that the pipeline easements merged into the
Roadway Lease when the parties executed the lease on May 2,
2012, and therefore those easements ceased to exist as
independent interests in the land. Consequently, according to
Murphy Land, once the Roadway Lease expired on May 1, 2015,
any entry on the land by Atmos Energy was unlawful. Moreover,
on March 21, 2016, Atmos Energy commenced a temporary
"pigging" operation, which is a form of pipeline
maintenance, and Atmos Energy utilized a "gas
flaring" technique as part of its pigging operation on
the property. Murphy Land believed that this procedure was
Murphy Land filed a declaratory judgment suit alleging that
Atmos Energy had no right to access Murphy Land's
property. Murphy Land sought to recover damages for Atmos
Energy's unlawful trespass and use of the property,
injunctive relief enjoining Atmos Energy's entry thereon
and any gas flaring maintenance pigging procedures, along
with attorney's fees. Atmos Energy filed a traditional
and no-evidence motion for summary judgment. The trial court
granted the motion, ordered that Murphy Land take nothing
against Atmos Energy, and dismissed its claims. This appeal
Judgment - Merger Doctrine
first issue, Murphy Land argues that the three pipeline
easements ceased to exist when the parties executed the
Roadway Lease under the "merger doctrine," and that
Atmos Energy's entrance onto the property after the
Roadway Lease expired constituted trespass.
review a summary judgment de novo. Travelers Ins. Co. v.
Joachim, 315 S.W.3d 860, 862 (Tex. 2010). A movant for
traditional summary judgment has the burden of showing there
is no genuine issue of material fact and it is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(c); Nixon
v. Mr. Prop. Mgmt. Co., 690 S.W.2d 546, 548-49 (Tex.
1985). Rule 166a provides a method of summarily terminating a
case when it clearly appears that only a question of law is
involved and that there is no genuine fact issue.
Rhone-Poulenc, Inc. v. Steel, 997 S.W.2d 217, 222
(Tex. 1999). A defendant-movant who conclusively negates at
least one essential element of a plaintiff's cause of
action is entitled to summary judgment on that claim.
Frost Nat'l Bank v. Fernandez, 315 S.W.3d 494,
508 (Tex. 2010).
no-evidence motion for summary judgment must show that no
evidence exists of one or more essential elements of a claim
on which the adverse party bears the burden of proof at
trial. Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(i); Timpte Indus., Inc. v.
Gish, 286 S.W.3d 306, 310 (Tex. 2009). Once the motion
is filed, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to produce
evidence raising a genuine issue of material fact on the
elements specified in the motion. Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(i);
Mack Trucks, Inc. v. Tamez, 206 S.W.3d 572, 582
issue exists, precluding summary judgment, if there is more
than a scintilla of probative evidence to support each
element of the plaintiff's claim. Neely v.
Wilson, 418 S.W.3d 52, 59 (Tex. 2013). Evidence is more
than a scintilla if it rises to a level that would enable
reasonable and fair-minded people to differ in their
conclusions. Serv. Corp. Int'l v. Guerra, 348
S.W.3d 221, 228 (Tex. 2011). Evidence is less than a
scintilla if it is so weak as to do no more than ...