Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Vela v. Murphy Exploration & Production Company-USA

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

December 27, 2019

Rene VELA, Appellant
v.
MURPHY EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION COMPANY-USA and Nabors Drilling Technologies, Inc., Appellees

          From the 365th Judicial District Court, Dimmit County, Texas Trial Court No. 14-05-12283-DCV-AJA Honorable Amado J. Abascal, III, Judge Presiding.

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice.

         Rene Vela sued Murphy Exploration & Production Company-USA ("Murphy") and Nabors Drilling Technologies, Inc. ("Nabors") under a premises liability theory and for gross negligence after he suffered personal injuries while working for T-Force Energy Services, Inc. ("T-Force") at an oil well site that was owned and operated by Murphy. Nabors owned a drilling rig on Murphy's well site. Murphy and Nabors each filed traditional and no-evidence motions for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. On appeal, Vela contends neither defendant was entitled to summary judgment. We affirm.

         Background

         Murphy owned and operated the Stumberg Ranch Well Site (the "well site") where Vela was injured. The well site had four wells on a single pad that were twenty-five feet apart from one another (Wells: 1H, 2H, 3H, and 4H). A "cellar" surrounded each of the well bores (Well 1H Cellar, Well 2H Cellar, Well 3H Cellar, and Well 4H Cellar). A cellar is generally a six-to-ten-foot hole constructed beneath the drilling rig that acts as a sort of "containment barrier" around the well to trap water, mud, oil, or other contaminants that may come out of the well bore while the rig is drilling.

         Murphy contracted with Nabors "to furnish and operate" the M17 drilling rig. The M17 drilling rig was positioned over Well 2H. Murphy contracted with T-Force, a rig-moving company, to move the M17 drilling rig from Well 2H to Well 4H. Nabors was responsible for disassembling the M17 drilling rig before the rig-move, and T-Force, pursuant to its contractual obligations with Murphy, was then responsible for moving the M17 drilling rig from Well 2H and positioning it over Well 4H. Under these arrangements, Nabors and T-Force were both subcontractors of Murphy, and Nabors and T-Force did not have a contractual relationship with each other.

         Located on top of the Well 4H Cellar were several 8-foot wide, 40-foot long, 2, 000-pound matting boards, and located on top of the matting boards were two 80, 000-pound mud pumps. On the morning of June 29, 2012, using a T-Force crane and forklift, Vela, as the "rigger" employed by T-Force, rigged up the two mud pumps to the crane and the T-Force crane operator maneuvered the pumps off the matting boards. The T-Force forklift operator then removed the matting boards. Without the matting boards covering the mouth of the Well 4H Cellar, the Well 4H Cellar was unsecured and open. After the matting boards were removed from the mouth of the Well 4H Cellar, Vela fell into the Well 4H Cellar while walking to retrieve his tagline.[1] Vela sustained personal injuries as a result of his fall.

         Vela filed suit against Murphy and Nabors based on a theory of premises liability and gross negligence. Vela alleged that Murphy and Nabors knew the Well 4H Cellar was unsecured, which was an unreasonably dangerous condition, and they chose not to secure it and that Murphy and Nabors were required to warn Vela and others similarly situated about the unreasonably dangerous conditions existing on the premises. Nabors filed a no-evidence and traditional motion for summary judgment claiming that Nabors, as a co-subcontractor, did not owe T-Force or its employees a duty under a premises liability theory because Nabors was not the owner of the well site, and did not exert control, or assume responsibility over, the well site sufficient to give rise to a legal duty. Murphy filed a no-evidence and traditional motion for summary judgment claiming Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code shielded Murphy from liability as a matter of law. The trial court granted both motions for summary judgment but did not specify the grounds it relied upon. Vela appeals.

         Standard of Review

         We review a trial court's summary judgment de novo. Lightning Oil Co. v. Anadarko E&P Onshore, LLC, 520 S.W.3d 39, 45 (Tex. 2017). When a trial court does not specify the grounds it relied upon in granting summary judgment, "reviewing courts must affirm summary judgment if any of the grounds asserted are meritorious." Id. "If a party moves for summary judgment on both traditional and no-evidence grounds, as the [appellees] did here, we first consider the no-evidence motion." Id.

         In a no-evidence motion for summary judgment, "the movant must first assert that no evidence exists as to one or more elements of a claim the nonmovant would have the burden of proof [on] at trial." Covarrubias v. Diamond Shamrock Ref. Co., 359 S.W.3d 298, 301 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2012, no pet.). "Once the movant has alleged no evidence exists as to one or more elements, the burden is then shifted to the nonmovant to present more than a scintilla of evidence which raises a genuine issue of material fact on each of the challenged elements." Id.

Less than a scintilla of evidence exists when the evidence is "so weak as to do no more than create a mere surmise or suspicion" of a fact. More than a scintilla of evidence exists when the evidence "rises to a level that would enable reasonable and fair-minded people to differ in their conclusions."

King Ranch, Inc. v. Chapman, 118 S.W.3d 742, 751 (Tex. 2003) (internal citation omitted) (first quoting Kindred v. Con/Chem, Inc., 650 S.W.2d 61, 63 (Tex. 1983); then quoting Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc. v. Havner, 953 S.W.2d 706, 711 (Tex. 1997)). "If the nonmovant fails to produce more than a scintilla of evidence, there is no need to analyze whether the movant's proof satisfies the Rule 166a(c)-traditional motion for summary judgment-burden." Covarrubias, 359 S.W.3d at 301.

         In a traditional motion for summary judgment, the movant "bears the burden of proving there is no genuine issue of material fact as to at least one essential element of the cause of action being asserted and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Lightning Oil Co., 520 S.W.3d at 45. If the movant establishes its right to judgment as a matter of law, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to present evidence raising a genuine issue of material fact. Arredondo v. Techserv Consulting & Training, Ltd., 567 S.W.3d 383, 390 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2018, pet. filed). "When reviewing a traditional motion for summary judgment, we review the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, indulge every reasonable inference in favor of the non-movant, and resolve any doubts against the motion." Lightning Oil Co., 520 S.W.3d at 45.

         Discussion

         In two issues, Vela contends the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Murphy and Nabors. We address the propriety of summary judgment as to each appellee separately.

         A. Murphy's Motion for Summary Judgment

         Vela contends the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Murphy because Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code does not apply to Vela's claims.

         a. Applicability of Chapter 95

         Chapter 95 "limits property owner liability on claims for personal injury, death, or property damage caused by negligence." Abutahoun v. Dow Chemical Co., 463 S.W.3d 42, 53 (Tex. 2015). If Chapter 95 applies, "its tenets regulate the viability of each claim [the appellant] alleged that involve negligence, that is, his claims of active negligence, premises liability, and gross negligence." Torres v. Chauncey Mansell & Mueller Supply Co., Inc., 518 S.W.3d 481, 494 (Tex. App.-Amarillo 2017, pet. denied). "If Chapter 95 applies, it is the plaintiff's 'sole means of recovery.'" Ineos USA, LLC v. Elmgren, 505 S.W.3d 555, 561 (Tex. 2016) (quoting Abutahoun, 463 S.W.3d at 51). Chapter 95 applies to a claim:

(1) against a property owner . . . for personal injury, death, or property damage to an owner, a contractor, or a subcontractor or an employee of a contractor or subcontractor; and
(2) that arises from the condition or use of an improvement to real property where the contractor or subcontractor constructs, repairs, renovates, or modifies the improvement.

Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 95.002. Additionally, "[c]hapter 95 only applies when the injury results from a condition or use of the same improvement on which the contractor (or its employee) is working when the injury occurs." Ineos, 505 S.W.3d at 567 (emphasis added). Murphy, as the property owner, has the initial burden of establishing that Chapter 95 applies to Vela's claim. Cox v. Air Liquide Am., LP, 498 S.W.3d 686, 689 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2016, no pet.). "Because a party may not obtain a no-evidence summary judgment on an issue for which it ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.