Caveat Emptor: Texas Supreme Court Puts Greater Due Diligence Burden on the Backs of Oil & Gas Asset Buyers

Buyer Beware in purchase of oil and gas assetsThe Permian is a hotbed of deal activity, with the Dallas Morning News declaring that an “arms race” is breaking out to acquire the best acreage positions.

But what are purchasers really buying? Does the due diligence process move too fast (or not at all, making it an empty exercise)? Do purchasers really know that their title is good? Are they unknowingly wasting their money, only to discover that they have done so decades after the investment is made and the profits are owed to the true owner?

The Texas Supreme Court has now strongly moved to put the risk of title loss on the oil and gas interest purchaser or lessee, holding that a purchaser/lessee was not even entitled to a trial on the question of whether it had reasonably relied on the lessor’s own admitted misrepresentations about its title.

In an opinion delivered March 23, the court upheld the dismissal as a matter of law of the purchaser’s claims arising from title failure. In so doing, the court upended the rule that a seller always remains liable for its own fraudulent statements, instead placing the risk on sophisticated buyers. Read more

Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch’s New Trial Tip – plus more!

I was honored to have had the opportunity to work with former Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch recently on the Mesa Petroleum Partners case, which resulted in a $117 million judgment plus interest for our client, T. Boone Pickens.

I sat down with Justice Enoch to ask about his insights into trial and appellate practice based on his decades of experience as a trial judge, court of appeals chief justice, and Supreme Court justice – as well as an advocate at his own law firm. Not only did he share inside knowledge about how judges view cases, he gave me a tip about new trial motions that not many trial lawyers know.  Read more

Three Easy(ish) Legal Resolutions for the New Year

Coffee cup and "New Year Goals" sticky notePerhaps you made some personal New Year’s resolutions geared towards improving your life, health or financial well-being. We’re hoping that you are succeeding brilliantly in keeping them!

But regardless of whether you are on target or wondering why you made them in the first place, New Year’s resolutions have a place in your legal life as well.

Here are three easy(ish) steps toward improving your legal affairs, both personal and professional. Read more

Final Judgment Entered in Mesa Lawsuit Against Baytech, Delaware Basin Resources 

After a successful mandamus petition to Texas’ Eighth Court of Appeals, lawyers for Mesa Petroleum Partners and legendary oilman T. Boone Pickens are celebrating the entry of a final judgment of approximately $135 million against Baytech LLP and Delaware Basin Resources LLC, both of Midland, Texas.

Chrysta Castañeda, of Dallas’ The Castañeda Firm, served as lead trial counsel to Mesa and Pickens in the 2016 trial that resulted in the jury verdict against Baytech and DBR. Final judgment was issued on December 8, just before the deadline set by the El Paso-based Court of Appeals, which ordered the trial judge to enter judgment by December 9.

In its November 23, 2016, verdict, the jury unanimously found that Baytech and DBR had breached their agreement to give Mesa rights to 15 percent of certain properties and wells in the “Red Bull” area of West Texas’ Reeves and Pecos counties.  Read more

Litigation Lessons from a Top-Flight Expert Witness

Author’s Note: On the one-year anniversary of our trial victory for T. Boone Pickens and Mesa Petroleum Partners, I am sharing an interview with one of our key expert witnesses, Ricardo (‘Rick”) Garza. Rick was an amazing person and loved to share his knowledge of petroleum engineering with lawyers and juries. I am very sad to report that Rick passed away on October 27, 2017. He will be terribly missed.

 

As any good trial lawyer knows, the success of your case is greatly affected by your team, including co-counsel, local counsel, Texas Bar Todayparalegals, jury consultants and expert witnesses, among others. I have had the pleasure of working with Ricardo Garza, one of the best engineering expert witnesses you’ll find anywhere, most recently during a 3½ -week trial in the West Texas town of Pecos. Our team represented Mesa Petroleum Partners LP in the hotly contested case involving oil and gas investments.

That trial ended with a unanimous $146 million jury verdict on behalf of our client, and Rick’s expertise contributed to that impressive win.

A petroleum engineer for more than 40 years, Rick has been an expert in hundreds of lawsuits and has participated in more than 50 trials. I  sat down with Rick to get his insights about trying a case when the subject matter is, to put it lightly, complex. The answer, it turns out, is equal parts expertise and arts & crafts. Read more

Litigation Issues in Area of Mutual Interest (AMI) Agreements

AMI AgreementsAn Area of Mutual Interest (AMI) Agreement is a contract between people or companies who want to jointly explore for oil and gas in a specific area during a given time. It is a common tool for sharing risks of development, along with the associated ownership and profits.

Unlike the standardized Joint Operating Agreement, though, AMI contracts tend to be handcrafted by the parties promoting the deal, and often have unintended flaws and consequences. If you’re an investor or operator who wants to put together an AMI Agreement, what do you watch out for? And what about buying an interest or properties that might be encumbered by an AMI Agreement? Will your due diligence reveal the significant issues associated with AMI obligations? Read more

Castañeda Firm Victory Ranked Among Top Texas Verdicts of 2016 

Dallas trial attorney Chrysta Castañeda and The Castañeda Firm have been recognized on Texas Lawyer’s list of the Top Texas Verdicts & Settlements of 2016 for the firm’s multimillion-dollar oil and gas verdict for legendary oilman T. Boone Pickens and his company, Mesa Petroleum Partners.

The state district court verdict in Mesa Petroleum Partners LP vs. Baytech LLP was the fifth-largest in Texas in 2016, according to Texas Lawyer, which ran the list in its September issue. Read more

The Legal Ramifications of Poorly Conceived Public Statements

Every day, newspapers and social media deliver fresh examples of poorly conceived and badly executed public statements that impact a legal position. As a result, lawyers and communications professionals who pay attention are being treated to a master class on how uncontrolled and undisciplined public statements can tank a case.

Communication Legal RamificationsThe communications missteps we have witnessed in recent months remind us that what is said in the public record – including on social media – can and will be used against the client in a court of law. The Trump campaign’s Twitter statements were used as evidence against the now-President’s travel ban in litigation. The White House’s statement explaining FBI Director Comey’s firing was undercut by the President’s contradictory statements about his motives, possibly inflaming the case for obstruction of justice.

But Washington is not the only source of examples.

 

Read more

Storytelling is No Substitute for Mastery of the Evidence

A lot of trial lawyers extol the virtues of storytelling when they talk about developing winning strategies. And while I love a good story as much as the next lawyer, jurors are being sold short if your trial strategy relies too heavily on a well-told story alone.

Want to know what really sells? Take a look at the display windows at Neiman Marcus, as an example. If you’ve ever strolled by the high-end department store, you may have noticed these elaborate and beautiful glass-encased displays. The next time you walk by, take a closer look and you’ll see it’s more than just pretty. Those windows are actually well-thought-out tableaus, meticulously designed by artists with an appreciation for subtlety, an attention to detail and a facility for subliminal storytelling. They know their audience and the subject matter they have to present.  Read more

Lessons from the John Wiley Price Trial

I recently observed the John Wiley Price public corruption trial as a commentator for Fox 4 News.  Price, a longtime Dallas County Commissioner, was charged with public corruption, mail fraud and tax fraud. After an eight-week trial and eight days of deliberation, he was acquitted on the public corruption and mail fraud charges and the jury deadlocked on the tax fraud charges.

The government had a lot riding on this case.  The FBI had been investigating Price and some of his business associates since the early 2000s. So, it was educational, as a litigator, to watch such a high-stakes case play out and ultimately unravel under the glare of the public spotlight. Read more