632 Longoria v. Exxon Mobil Corp. No. 04-15-00536-CV, 2016 WL 4013793 (Tex. App.—San Antonio July 27, 2016, pet. denied)

Monday, June 19th, 2017

Richard F. Brown

The following is not a legal opinion. You should consult your attorney if the case may be of significance to you.

Longoria v. Exxon Mobil Corp. No. 04-15-00536-CV, 2016 WL 4013793 (Tex. App.—San Antonio July 27, 2016, pet. denied) (mem. op.) (Necessary parties) held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing with prejudice a title dispute in which plaintiffs failed to join all potential interest owners. Here, plaintiffs alleged that their ancestor, Jose M. Longoria, “acquired an undivided one-half interest in 9,200 acres of land in Brooks County, Texas, in the 1800s,” and apparently a partition in 1924 was a material part of the dispute. The disputed interest was not reflected in subsequent conveyances and leases. Plaintiffs sued all holders or past holders of record title to the mineral interest on those acres for damages in the amount of plaintiffs’ share of net production of minerals, declaration of their ownership, quieting of title, and removal of cloud from their title. Plaintiffs failed to join all of the interest owners in the 9,200 acres, and the trial court dismissed the claims with prejudice. The same joinder issue and essentially the same parties were before the court in Longoria v. Exxon Mobil Corp. (“Longoria I”), which upheld a dismissal without prejudice.

Much of the opinion focused on procedural issues. As an oil and gas case, the core issue was the determination of necessary parties. Trial courts are given broad discretion when ordering joinder. Rule 39(a) of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure governs whether a party is necessary for the purposes of joinder and Rule 39(b) “provides the basis for determining whether an action should proceed in the absence of the parties described in Rule 39(a).” Moreover, the Texas Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act states that “‘all persons who have or claim any interest that would be affected by the declaration must be made parties.’”

Plaintiffs argued that the trial court abused its discretion because the absent interest owners were not required parties for the purpose of joinder under Rule 39(a). Plaintiffs attempted to distinguish the current appeal from Longoria I by asserting that under their pleadings, the plaintiffs sought recovery only from the oil companies, not the absent land and nonparticipating royalty owners. The court did not agree with this argument, because plaintiffs were seeking declaratory relief under the Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act and because the claims would affect the absent parties’ interests. Rule 39(a) states that a party, who can be served with process “shall be joined as a party to an action if he claims an interest relating to the subject matter of the action and is so situated that the disposition of the action in his absence may: (i) as a practical matter impair or impede his ability to protect that interest; or (ii)leave persons already parties subject to substantial risk of incurring double, multiple, or inconsistent obligations by reason of his claimed interest.”

The court held that it was within the trial court’s discretion to find joinder necessary for both reasons. The land and nonparticipating royalty owners who were not joined as defendants had an interest in the subject matter that would be impaired if the court were to allow the case to go on without those parties. Also, proceeding without the absent oil companies would subject them to multiple or inconsistent obligations.

The significance of this case is the holding that trial courts may determine that all owners may be necessary parties to a title dispute.