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Law School Case Brief

Coastal Oil & Gas Corp. v. Garza Energy Tr. - 268 S.W.3d 1 (Tex. 2008)


Texas courts have occasionally stated that the gist of an action of trespass to realty is the injury to the right of possession. But courts have stated the rule too broadly. At common law, trespass included several actions directed to different kinds of wrongs. Trespass quare clausum fregit was limited to physical invasions of plaintiff's possessory interest in land; trespass on the case was not and provided an action for injury to a non-possessory interest, such as reversion. Thus a landlord cannot sue for a mere trespass to land in the occupation of his tenant. He is not without legal remedy, in the form of an action on the case for the injury to the reversion; but in order to maintain it, he must show more than the trespass -- namely, actual permanent harm to the property of such sort as to affect the value of his interest.

Damages for drainage by hydraulic fracturing are precluded by the rule of capture. 


The lessees drilled a well on adjoining land in close proximity to a well on the lessors' property. The lessors filed suit, alleging that the lessees were allowing gas to drain to the adjoining land. The lessees drilled more wells on the lessors' property and conducted hydraulic fracturing operations on all of the wells on both properties. The lessors amended their pleadings to allege that this process had caused more drainage. At trial, the lessors introduced into evidence an internal memo from the lessees' files discussing title problems. The trial court overruled the lessees' objection that the memo, which contained language that could be interpreted as an ethnic slur, was irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial. The district court then awarded damages to the lessors, holding that the lessees breached their implied covenants to develop and to prevent drainage, bad-faith pooling, and trespass. The appellate court affirmed the ruling and the lessees appealed.


Was there an actionable trespass in the present case?




The court held that the rule of capture precluded damages for drainage by hydraulic fracturing; hence, there was no actionable trespass. According to the court, the lessors failed to show what amount of drainage a reasonably prudent operator should have prevented. Although there was some evidence of a breach of the development covenant, the court averred that the trial court abused its discretion under Tex. R. Evid. 403 in admitting the memo, which inflamed the jury and resulted in unreasonably high damage findings; thus, the court reversed the judgment of the appellate court.

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