Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
THE 345TH DISTRICT COURT OF TRAVIS COUNTY NO.
D-1-GN-14-005105, THE HONORABLE STEPHEN YELENOSKY, JUDGE
Chief Justice Rose, Justices Goodwin and Kelly
ROSE, CHIEF JUSTICE
Enerlex, Inc. is a business that buys mineral interests
throughout the United States. It acquired mineral interests
located in Texas from William Wilson, III, conveyed through a
mineral deed signed by Wilson in 2013. The deed, which
governed minerals that might be produced from a tract of land
described as "Block C, Section, L & S V Survey, Ab.
297," gave Enerlex rights to "all royalties,
accruals and other benefits, if any, from all Oil and Gas
heretofore or hereafter run." In 2014, Enerlex sent an
Unclaimed Property General Claim form to appellee Glenn
Hegar, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, seeking $4,
652.91 in unclaimed royalty payments for Wilson's mineral
interests, which had been sent to the State between 2001 and
2010. The Comptroller denied the claim, explaining that
Enerlex had provided proof "of a transfer of the mineral
interests" from Wilson to Enerlex but not "of a
transfer of the proceeds of those mineral interests arising
prior to the transfer of the mineral interests to
Enerlex." Enerlex then filed the underlying suit
appealing from that denial and seeking a declaration that it
was entitled to the funds. After Enerlex and the Comptroller
filed competing motions for summary judgment, the trial court
granted the Comptroller's and denied Enerlex's. As
explained below, we affirm the trial court's judgment.
OF REVIEW AND STATUTORY FRAMEWORK
construing a statute, our primary objective is to give effect
to the legislature's intent. Colorado County v.
Staff, 510 S.W.3d 435, 444 (Tex. 2017). "We seek
that intent first and foremost in the statutory text, and
where text is clear, text is determinative of intent."
Id. (cleaned up). The plain meaning of the statutory
language is the best expression of legislative intent unless
context shows that a different meaning should be applied or
the plain meaning leads to absurd or nonsensical results.
Id. In discerning legislative intent, we will limit
our consideration to the statutory language unless it
"is susceptible to more than one reasonable
interpretation." Id. In other words,
"[w]hen a statute is clear and unambiguous, we do not
resort to extrinsic aides such as legislative history to
interpret the statute." City of Round Rock v.
Rodriguez, 399 S.W.3d 130, 137 (Tex. 2013). When, as
here, the statutory-construction issues are presented in the
context of cross-motions for summary judgment based on
undisputed material facts, we determine all issues presented
and render the judgment the trial court should have rendered.
Staff, 510 S.W.3d at 444.
of the property code governs unclaimed property. See
generally Tex. Prop. Code §§ 71.001-77.308. In
the case of unclaimed or abandoned property, such as the
Wilson royalty payments,  the property holder must prepare a
yearly report that identifies the owner and provides his last
known address and other information, if such information is
known to the holder; in the case of mineral proceeds, the
holder must also provide certain information about the well
or lease from which the mineral proceeds resulted.
Id. § 74.101. The holder must then deliver the
report and the property to the Comptroller. Id.
§ 74.301. The Comptroller is required to attempt to
provide notice to the owner, id. § 74.201, and
to compile a public list each year providing the owners'
names, their last known addresses, and the amounts credited
to each account, id. § 74.307. To obtain
abandoned property held by the State, a person files a claim
with the Comptroller, who, after reviewing the claim and
determining that it is valid, must deliver the property to
the claimant. Id. § 74.501. As relevant here,
the Comptroller "may not pay" a claim to "a
creditor, a judgment creditor, a lienholder, or an assignee
of the reported owner or of the owner's heirs."
Id. § 74.501(e)(1).
owner" is not defined in the unclaimed-property
provisions, but from the context of Title 6, it is apparent
that the "reported owner" refers to the person
believed by the holder to be the property owner-the person
who "from the records of the holder of the property,
appears to be the owner of the property" or "any
person who is entitled to the property." Id.
§ 74.101(c). In other words, the reported owner is the
person named as owner by the property holder in the report it
provides to the Comptroller at the time it turns the
unclaimed property over to the State. See id.
§§ 74.101 (property holder must make report listing
contact information for such person), .301 (delivery of
property to Comptroller). The Comptroller must pay a
validated unclaimed-property claim to the reported owner (or
his heirs), see id. § 74.501(a), (b), (d), but
section 74.501(e) states unequivocally that the Comptroller
"may not pay" an unclaimed-property claim to
"an assignee of the reported owner," id.
"assignee" is not defined in Title 6, its ordinary
meaning is easily ascertained. Black's Law Dictionary
defines assignee as "[o]ne to whom property rights or
powers are transferred by another." Assignee,
Black's Law Dictionary 136 (9th ed. 1991); see
id. (defining "assignment" as "[t]he
transfer of rights or property"); see also Compact
Oxford English Dictionary 80 (2d ed. 1994) (assignee is
"[o]ne to whom a right or property is legally
transferred or made over"). Our sister court has
explained that assignee "is commonly understood to mean
a person to whom a right or liability is legally transferred
or a person appointed to act for another."
Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Structured Asset Funding,
LLC, 501 S.W.3d 706, 715 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.]
2016, no pet.) (cleaned up); see also Great-W. Life &
Annuity Ins. Co. v. Texas Att'y Gen. Child Support
Div., 331 S.W.3d 884, (Tex. App.-Austin 2011, pet.
denied) (discussing lottery winner's assignment of future
installment payments in exchange for lump-sum payment). And,
as observed earlier, when interpreting statutory language
that is clear and unambiguous, we will limit our
consideration to the plain meaning of that language without
resorting to legislative history or other extrinsic aides.
Staff, 510 S.W.3d at 444; Rodriguez, 399
S.W.3d at 137; see Southwest Royalties, Inc. v.
Hegar, 500 S.W.3d 400, 405 (Tex. 2016) (undefined
statutory term "is typically given its ordinary
meaning" if consistent with other statutory terms and
transaction between Enerlex and Wilson had the effect of
making Enerlex the owner of the right to royalties from the
date of the sale forward. In other words, Enerlex will now be
the reported owner, and any unclaimed royalties that might be
deposited with the Comptroller from the date of the deeds
forward will be paid to Enerlex. However, as far as the
unclaimed royalties held by the Comptroller (from 2001
through 2010) are concerned, at the time they were given over
to the Comptroller, Wilson was the reported owner. Enerlex
argues that by signing the deeds, Wilson assigned his rights
to that unclaimed property to Enerlex. However, regardless of
who owns the right to the sums held by the Comptroller, the
plain language of section 74.501(e) bars the Comptroller from
paying an unclaimed-property claim submitted by the reported
owner's assignee. See Tex. Prop. Code §
74.501(e). Instead, those funds can only be paid to the
reported owner-Wilson. See id. § 74.501(d). We
overrule Enerlex's third issue on appeal.
addition, Enerlex argues that section 75.002 of the property
code supports its right to the unclaimed royalty payments.
Section 75.002 provides that a person who purchases mineral
proceeds-defined as "all obligations to pay resulting
from the production and sale of minerals," id.
§ 75.001(a)-or "an owner whose name has been
reported" to the Comptroller must prove that "the
transfer is executed by the reported owner" or his
agent, id. § 75.002. However, this case does
not concern "obligations to pay"; it concerns
royalties already paid by the mineral producer and unclaimed
by Wilson. As noted earlier, assuming Enerlex is able to
satisfy section 75.002's requirements, it will be
considered the owner of the right to royalties as those
"obligations to pay" arise. We overrule
Enerlex's sixth issue.
we have held that the plain language of section 74.501(e)
bars the Comptroller from paying the claim filed by Enerlex
as assignee, the parties' intentions in their transaction
are not controlling in this appeal. We therefore need not
consider Enerlex's first, second, and seventh appellate
issues,  which concern the circumstances of its
purchase of Wilson's royalty interests. Because the
statutory language is unambiguous, we cannot look to
extrinsic aids, see Staff, 510 S.W.3d at 444;
Rodriguez, 399 S.W.3d at 137, and thus overrule
Enerlex's fourth issue, which argues for a different
interpretation of the plain statutory language based on the
legislative history surrounding section 74.501(e).
we disagree that the Comptroller's recent interpretation
has violated Enerlex's constitutional rights. Throughout
its briefing, Enerlex emphasizes the fact that the
Comptroller paid similar claims for more than a decade before
changing its interpretation of the statute-a fact the
Comptroller does not dispute. However, we decline to hold
that an agency is estopped from changing course when it
determines that its earlier interpretation of a statute was
erroneous and its new interpretation is solidly grounded in
the plain language chosen by the legislature. See Grocers
Supply Co. v. Sharp, 978 S.W.2d 638, 644 (Tex.
App.-Austin 1998, pet. denied). An earlier, incorrect
interpretation of the law cannot be considered to give rise
to a vested right. See id. ("We hold that the
Comptroller's unlawful policy did not create a vested
right; therefore, the Comptroller's change in policy
during the pendency of Grocers Supply's refund claim was
not an unconstitutional retroactive application of
law."). Furthermore, the Comptroller's
interpretation of section 74.501(e) in no way interferes with
Enerlex's contractual rights against Wilson, nor does it
interfere with Wilson's ability to sell and assign his
rights to unclaimed ...