Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Title Suit Booted for Failure to Join Parties

Originally published by Charles Sartain.

Posted by Charles Sartain

unhappy partyLongoria v. ExxonMobil is like throwing a big party but failing to invite all the right guests.

The Longorias – 59 of them – sued producer-defendants over ownership of 9,200 acres in Brooks County, Texas, acquired in the 1800’s. Plaintiffs claimed their ownership was not recognized in subsequent conveyances and judgments and sought an accounting, damages for conversion of their share of production, to quiet title, and to declare their ownership in the mineral estate.

Trouble for the Longorias

Plaintiffs identified 82 absent interest owners as “Necessary, Nominal Parties” – let’s call them the “uninvited” – but did not join them as defendants. Facing motions to abate and to dismiss, Longoria claimed the uninviteds were not necessary because there was no claim against them. But their pleadings made claims on their interests. The court denied that argument.

Alternatives to joinder and service

Longoria offered to pay the unserved interest owners amounts equal to the royalty paid by the producers for as long as production continued.  Like a party favor for not even being invited. The court dismissed that rationale. If the plaintiffs won the suit the producers’ interests would be diminished. The “uninvited” wouldn’t be bound by the judgment, and could continue to look to the producers for payment of 100% of their royalty.

How long is long enough?

Longoria argued that they served 57 of 64 absent owners (producers argued it was fewer) and weren’t allowed sufficient time to locate and serve the others.  Observing that they had been given nine months to accomplish this task, the court concluded that the Longorias, having made half-hearted efforts at service, were not diligent in pursuing the unserved interest owners.

To understand this result, you need to know that this dispute is the progeny of a suit originally filed in 2004. In a 2008 opinion this same court dismissed that suit on the more or less same grounds as this one, but without prejudice, giving the Longorias another chance to assemble the proper guest list.  Looks like the court finally invoked a judicial curfew, sending everybody home.

Finally, Longoria asked the court to allow substituted service on the unserved defendants.  The denied the motion. It was late and was defective because it was not supported by an affidavit. Even new affidavits filed with a motion for new trial were insufficient because they stated conclusions with no supporting facts.

The takeaways

  • A suit is likely to be dismissed if all parties whose interests could be affected by a judgment are not before the court.
  • Left unsaid in the opinion is that if a party is deliberate in refusing to do what the court orders, the court’s patience will eventually run out, with unpleasant results. In this case, 12 years was enough.

A musical interlude, dedicated to the Longorias’ empty feeling as the producer-defendants and the court of appeal leave the party, hand in hand.

Curated by Texas Bar Today. Follow us on Twitter @texasbartoday.

from Texas Bar Today
via Abogado Aly Website

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