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Walton v. Exxon Mobil Corp.

Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Second Circuit

February 26, 2015

ROBERT L. WALTON, BONNIE TROUILLE WALTON, JOHN KEITH LAMM AND REBECCA BROUSSARD LAMM, Plaintiffs-Appellants
v.
EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION, EXXONMOBIL OIL CORPORATION, BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY AND MONCLOVA PLANTATION, L.L.C., Defendants-Appellees

Page 491

Appealed from the Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Tensas, Louisiana. Trial Court No. 21407. Honorable Michael E. Lancaster, Judge.

TALBOT, CARMOUCHE & , MARCELLO, By: Donald T. Carmouche, Victor L. Marcello, John H. Carmouche, William R. Coenen, III, Brian T. Carmouche, Todd J. Wimberley, Ross J. Donnes, D. Adele Owen, Leah Cotten, Caroline H. Martin, ROBERT C. VINES, JAMES E. PAXTON, Counsel for Plaintiffs-Appellants, Robert L. Walton, Bonnie Trouille Walton, John Keith Lamm and Rebecca Broussard Lamm.

LISKOW & LEWIS (New Orleans), By: Robert B. McNeal, Mark L. McNamara, James E. Lapeze, Stephen W. Wiegand, Joseph I. Giarrusso III, Joe B. Norman, LISKOW & LEWIS (Houston), By: Michael P. Cash, LISKOW & LEWIS (Lafayette), By: April L. Rolen-Ogden, Counsel for Defendants-Appellees, ExxonMobil Oil Corporation and Exxon Mobil Corporation.

SHOTWELL BROWN & SPERRY, By: George M. Wear, Jr., Counsel for Ann Butts Burns, Cleada N. Butts, Edgar Reed Butts, and the Estate of Sara L. Muskelley.

JAMES W. BERRY, Counsel for Monclova Plantation, LLC.

KEAN MILLER LLP, By: James P. Doré , Pamela R. Mascari, R. Benn Vincent, Jr., Counsel for BP America Production Company.

JEANSONNE & REMONDET, LLC, By: John A. Jeansonne, Jr., John A. Jeansonne, III, Counsel for McGowan Working, Partners, Inc. and John W. McGowan.

Before CARAWAY, LOLLEY and GARRETT, JJ. GARRETT, J., concurs with written reasons.

OPINION

Page 492

[49,569 La.App. 2 Cir. 1] CARAWAY, J.

The trial court dismissed a portion of the damage claims brought by plaintiff landowners in this so-called legacy litigation by application of the subsequent purchaser doctrine. The plaintiffs did not own the land until 2002. Their land remains subject to existing mineral leases and a mineral servitude. The partial judgment ruling of the trial court was certified for immediate appeal. We affirm the pre-purchase damages claim dismissal by the trial court's ruling.

Facts and Procedural History

This case involves the same dispute that was before this court in Walton v. Burns, 47,388 (La.App. 2d Cir. 01/16/13), 151 So.3d 616 (" Walton I " ). The case centers around the plaintiff landowners' claims for damages against the past and present mineral lessees and operators, as well as the mineral servitude owners, who were added to the suit by the Walton I ruling.

Robert Walton and Bonnie Walton purchased the land in 2002, and in 2003, the Waltons sold a portion of the property to John and Rebecca Lamm. The Waltons and the Lamms (hereinafter the " Landowners" ) own no mineral interest in the property. The case involves two mineral leases in the Holly Ridge Oil and Gas Field in Tensas Parish, executed in the 1940s. The first lease on the property was granted by R. D. Shelley to Thomas J. Sandridge on November 25, 1940 (" Sandridge lease" ). This lease was later assigned to Mobil, the predecessor of defendant ExxonMobil Oil Corporation (" Exxon" ). Operations were conducted on the lease premises beginning in the 1940s. In April of 1978, the Sandridge lease was assigned to defendant [49,569 La.App. 2 Cir. 2] McGowan Working Partners, Inc. (" McGowan" ), which remains the present operator of the lease.

The second lease was granted on December 13, 1941, by R. D. Shelley to J. A. Wainwright (" Wainwright lease" ). The Wainwright lease covered acreage adjacent to the Sandridge lease and was assigned to Stanolind Oil, the predecessor of defendant BP America Production Company (" BP" ). The lease was maintained until its assignment to McGowan in 1976, and McGowan has operated wells on the Wainwright lease from that time until the present.

In 1980, the then-owner of the surface, Sher-Di-Je Land Co., Inc., entered into an agreement with McGowan. In consideration for $10,000, Sher-Di-Je agreed to waive any claim which it may have acquired from previous owners of the surface for damages resulting from prior operations

Page 493

and not previously remedied. Defendants, through their motion for summary judgment, argue that this agreement bound not only Sher-Di-Je, but also its successors and assigns, including the present plaintiffs. Therefore, Defendants argue that because of this agreement Plaintiffs are not entitled to any damages stemming from any claim for damages from oil and gas operations occurring prior to July 17, 1980.

In their original petition, the Landowners named only BP and Exxon, and the Waltons' 2002 vendor of the land.[1] The Landowners alleged that the property is " believed to be contaminated by the oil and gas exploration and [49,569 La.App. 2 Cir. 3] production activities conducted or controlled by the oil company defendants [. . .] pursuant to certain oil, gas, and mineral leases." Plaintiffs filed a supplemental petition that added McGowan as a defendant, but none of the original allegations of fault and damages were expanded. Plaintiffs never made any specific allegations as to the dates of the acts causing the alleged contamination in their property other than to indicate that such acts began as far back in time as the outset of the mineral lease. Plaintiffs requested damages to conduct a scientific analysis of the contamination, to restore the property to its pre-polluted condition, punitive damages, unjust enrichment damages for the defendants' unauthorized use of the property for waste disposal, stigma damages, mental anguish damages, any civil fruits derived from trespass, and loss of enjoyment damages. Apart from the allegation that the land is contaminated from the oil and gas activities of the Defendants, the Landowners did not state specific facts concerning the actual pecuniary and nonpecuniary damages suffered over the 75 years that the mineral leases have been operated.

Thus, to summarize, these allegations of the Landowners are directed at three categories of the defendants/appellees (hereinafter the " Defendants" ): (1) the former leasehold owners, (2) the present leasehold owner and operator, and (3) the mineral servitude owners.

Additionally, we note that La. R.S. 30:29(B)(1) requires that:

[U]pon the filing or amendment of any litigation or pleading making a judicial demand arising from or alleging environmental damage, the provisions of this Section shall apply and the party filing same shall provide timely notice to the state of Louisiana through the Department of Natural Resources, commissioner of conservation and the attorney general.

[49,569 La.App. 2 Cir. 4] All parties have indicated both in brief and in oral argument that the Landowners seek the regulatory cleanup damages of Act 312 of 2006, La. R.S. 30:29 (hereinafter " Act 312" ). However, the petitions and other pleadings in the record do not reflect that the ...


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