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In re WTG Fuels, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eleventh District

January 13, 2020

IN RE WTG FUELS, INC.

          Original Mandamus Proceeding

          Panel consists of: Bailey, C.J., Stretcher, J., and Wright, S.C.J. [1]

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Relator, WTG Fuels, Inc., filed this original petition for writ of mandamus in which it requests that we instruct the Honorable Rodney W. Satterwhite, Senior District Judge of the 441st District Court of Midland County, to vacate two orders entered on October 9, 2019, in Cause No. CV53491.

         In the first order, Judge Satterwhite granted the motion of Plaintiffs John Schmidt, Robert Graves, and Weston Brandes, who are the real parties in interest in this proceeding, to strike WTG's designation of Robert D. Hayter, Nancy Hayter, and Joe Robert Hayter as potentially responsible third parties. We deny WTG's petition for writ of mandamus as to this order.

         In the second order, Judge Satterwhite granted Plaintiffs' motion to conduct discovery into WTG's net worth. We conditionally grant the petition for writ of mandamus as to this order.

         Background

         Plaintiffs, who were hunting on land leased and occupied by the Hayters, allege that they were injured in a propane explosion at a ranch house on the property. The propane leaked from a corroded pipe in the wall of the house, accumulated under the house, and ignited when Plaintiffs attempted to light a pilot light on a hot water heater. Plaintiffs sued WTG, which had refilled the propane tank on the property on the day before the accident, and the Hayters, among other parties. WTG designated the Hayters as potentially responsible third parties pursuant to Section 33.004 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 33.004 (West 2015).

         The Hayters filed a combined traditional and no-evidence motion for summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims. The Hayters specifically asserted (1) that the Recreational Use Statute, set out in Sections 75.001-.007 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, barred Plaintiffs' negligence claims; (2) that they were not negligent or grossly negligent as a matter of law; and (3) that there was no evidence of any of the elements of Plaintiffs' claims for negligence and gross negligence. Judge Satterwhite granted the Hayters' motion for summary judgment without stating the ground for the ruling, dismissed Plaintiffs' claims against the Hayters, and severed Plaintiffs' claims against the Hayters into a new cause of action.

         Plaintiffs moved to strike WTG's designation of the Hayters as potentially responsible third parties. Plaintiffs argued that, because there was no evidence to sustain their claims against the Hayters, there was also no evidence to support the designation of the Hayters as potentially responsible third parties. WTG responded (1) that there was more than a scintilla of evidence to raise a fact issue as to whether the Hayters were responsible for Plaintiffs' injuries, (2) that the Hayters "had certain obligations to ensure the . . . safety" of Plaintiffs, and (3) that the Hayters could be potentially responsible third parties even if their liability to Plaintiffs was limited by the Recreational Use Statute. On October 9, 2019, Judge Satterwhite granted Plaintiffs' motion to strike WTG's designation of the Hayters as potentially responsible third parties.

         Plaintiffs also moved to conduct net worth discovery against WTG pursuant to Section 41.0115 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. See Civ. Prac. & Rem. § 41.0115 (West Supp. 2019). WTG responded that Plaintiffs had not shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claim for exemplary damages. Alternatively, WTG asserted that the requested discovery was overbroad and was not the least burdensome method to determine WTG's net worth.

         On October 9, 2019, Judge Satterwhite granted Plaintiffs' motion to conduct net worth discovery. The order, in its entirety, states:

BE IT REMEMBERED that on this the 25th day of September, 2019, came on to be heard Plaintiffs' Motion to Conduct Net Worth Discovery for Gross Negligence Claims Against Defendant WTG Fuels, Inc., and the Court having reviewed the pleadings and heard the arguments of counsel finds that said motion should be GRANTED on a limited basis.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Plaintiffs' Motion to Conduct Net Worth Discovery for Gross Negligence Claims Against Defendant WTG Fuels, Inc. is GRANTED. However, it is limited to discovery of the Balance Sheet of WTG for the current year and the preceding year only.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that all documents responsive to this request for production shall remain confidential and be on a ...

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