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Texan Land & Cattle II, Ltd. v. Exxonmobil Pipeline Co.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

May 16, 2019

TEXAN LAND & CATTLE II, LTD., Appellant
v.
EXXONMOBIL PIPELINE COMPANY, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 269th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2016-61262

          Panel consists of Justices Christopher, Jewell, and Hassan.

          OPINION

          Kevin Jewell, Justice.

         The question before us is whether a pipeline easement's right-of-way to transport "oil or gas" is limited to "crude petroleum," or alternatively whether the easement also permits transportation of the refined petroleum products gasoline and diesel. The trial court held the latter interpretation applied and granted summary judgment in the easement holder's favor on the landowner's claims for breach of contract, trespass, and declaratory judgment. The landowner appeals, asserting that the easement's terms oil or gas mean only crude oil.

         For the reasons explained below, we agree with the trial court that those terms are not so limited, and we affirm the summary judgment in the easement holder's favor.

         Background

         The facts are undisputed. Appellant Texan Land & Cattle II, Ltd. ("TLC") owns a tract of real property in Harris County. Appellee ExxonMobil Pipeline Company ("ExxonMobil") owns a pipeline easement across TLC's property. ExxonMobil's easement rights arise from a December 1919 "right-of-way deed" that granted ExxonMobil's predecessor, Humble Oil Company, the right of way to lay, maintain, operate, and remove a pipeline for the "transportation of oil or gas" across TLC's property. The easement does not define oil or gas.

         ExxonMobil has been transporting gasoline and diesel through the pipeline since at least 1995. TLC sued ExxonMobil, claiming that ExxonMobil was exceeding its rights under the easement. TLC sought an injunction, damages for trespass and breach of contract, and declaratory relief.

         Both parties moved for summary judgment and disputed the meaning of the terms oil and gas as contained in the easement. According to TLC, those terms granted ExxonMobil the right to transport only "crude oil" or "crude petroleum" but not refined products. ExxonMobil, on the other hand, argued that the terms oil and gas, as used in pipeline easement agreements from the early 20th century, include refined products like gasoline and diesel. The parties do not dispute that gasoline and diesel are refined petroleum products.

         The trial court denied TLC's motion, granted ExxonMobil's motion, and signed a take-nothing judgment in ExxonMobil's favor. TLC appeals.

         Standard of Review on Summary Judgment

         We review a trial court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment de novo. Tarr v. Timberwood Park Owners Assoc., Inc., 556 S.W.3d 274, 278 (Tex. 2018). To prevail on a traditional motion for summary judgment, the movant must show that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(c). When both parties move for summary judgment on the same issues and the trial court grants one motion and denies the other, we consider the summary judgment evidence presented by both sides, determine all questions presented, and, if we determine that the trial court erred, render the judgment the trial court should have rendered. Tarr, 556 S.W.3d at 278. We may affirm if any of the theories presented to the trial court and preserved for review are meritorious. Joe v. Two Thirty Nine Joint Venture, 145 S.W.3d 150, 157 (Tex. 2004); Haro v. Universal Underwriters Ins. Co., 162 S.W.3d 661, 662 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2005, pet. denied).

         Analysis

         In a single issue, TLC challenges the summary judgment in ExxonMobil's favor. The dispositive question, the parties agree, is the meaning of oil and gas as used in the easement. According to TLC, a Commission of Appeals decision and certain statutes of roughly the same era as this easement specifically define "oil" to mean only crude petroleum, and those definitions control over secondary sources- such as dictionaries and other reference materials relevant to the oil and gas industry-in discerning the meaning of undefined easement terms. ExxonMobil responds that TLC's primary authority does not support its position, that TLC's arguments disregard traditional contract interpretation principles, ...


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