In re Equinor Texas Onshore Properties f/k/a Statoil Texas Onshore Properties LLC

Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-20-00578-CV (October 7, 2020)
Chief Justice Burns (Opinion, linked here), and Justices Partida-Kipness and Reichek

Against a convoluted factual and procedural background, the Dallas Court of Appeals announced a comparatively simple rule: When determining which of two interrelated cases is “first filed” for purposes of “dominant jurisdiction,” if one of those cases has been transferred to a different court and county, it is the date on which that case arrived in the transferee court that governs, not the date when that case was originally filed in the transferor court.

A bank, as trustee, held certain oil and gas interests in LaSalle County, Texas—an enclave of about 7,000 souls roughly halfway between San Antonio and Laredo. Equinor and Repsol together acquired lease rights to some of those interests. When a dispute arose about royalty payments, the bank filed two separate lawsuits in LaSalle County, one against Equinor and one against Repsol—even though it would later contend they were jointly and severally liable for the alleged shortfall. The case against Repsol was assigned a lower docket number than the Equinor lawsuit, even though the file-mark on the petition indicated it was filed three days later. Equinor accepted venue in LaSalle County. But Repsol challenged venue, and the case against it was transferred by agreement to Dallas County. After the transfer, the bank added Equinor to the Dallas case that had originally been filed only against Repsol. Equinor objected, moved to transfer venue, and filed a plea in abatement, asserting dominant jurisdiction lay with the LaSalle County district court in the case in which the bank had sued Equinor originally.
With respect to interrelated lawsuits, the “court in which suit is first filed acquires dominant jurisdiction to the exclusion of other coordinate courts.” In re JB Hunt Transp., Inc., 492 S.W.3d 287, 294 (Tex. 2016) (orig. proceeding). The parties did not dispute that the two suits here were interrelated. But there was considerable disagreement about which was “first filed,” given the confusion arising from the discrepancy between the file stamps and the sequence of case numbers assigned to the original Equinor and Repsol lawsuits in LaSalle County. The Dallas Court of Appeals, however, swept that confusion aside, holding that the “LaSalle County court acquired jurisdiction over the Equinor Lawsuit long before the Dallas County court acquired jurisdiction over the Repsol Lawsuit” to which Equinor was later added, and that the date and timing of the transferred Repsol lawsuit did “not relate back” to its original filing in LaSalle County. Dominant jurisdiction, therefore, lay with the LaSalle County district court in the original Equinor lawsuit. So Equinor was entitled to have the Dallas County case against it abated.