Face Challenges Confidently

141 Exxon Corp. v. Pluff

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Richard F. Brown

The following is not a legal opinion. You should consult your attorney if the case may be of significance to you.
Exxon Corp. v. Pluff1 holds that the common lease clause giving lessee the right to remove equipment does not impose a duty to remove equipment, and that the cause of action for damage to the surface belongs to the owner of the surface at the time the damage occurs. Exxon drilled several wells on a small ten-acre tract during the 1930’s and ceased all operations on the property in 1984.2 Pluff purchased the surface in 1992, when the property was still cluttered with oilfield junk.3 The trial court ruled that Exxon had a duty to remove the oilfield materials from the property, and the jury then found Exxon failed to remove the materials and awarded Pluff $30,000 as damages.4
The appellate court relied heavily upon Senn v. Texaco5 in finding that Pluff had no standing to sue.6 Existing case law clearly establishes that a cause of action for injury to real property accrues when the injury is committed, the right to sue is a personal right that belongs to the person who owns the property at the time of the injury, and the right to sue does not pass to a subsequent purchaser of the property unless there is an express assignment of the cause of action.7 “Consequently, a mere subsequent purchaser of the property cannot recover for an injury committed before his purchase.8 Pluff was critical of the holding in Senn, which disregarded the distinction between permanent and temporary injury to land. Nevertheless, the court held that the characterization of the injury was not important; it is the fact of injury that is critical.9
The lease provided that “[Exxon] shall have the right at any time during or after the expiration of this lease to remove all property and fixtures placed by [Exxon] on said land including the right to draw and remove all casing.”10  Pluff contended that this clause imposed a duty on Exxon

to remove oilfield materials.11 The court refused to find an express duty, and relied upon Warren Petroleum v. Monz ingo12 in refusing to find an implied duty to remove oilfield materials.13 There is no “implied duty to repair the damage done to the land caused by rightful and necessary use.”14

  1. 2002 WL 1428118 (Tex. App.–Tyler 2002, pet. denied).
  2. Id. at *1.
  3. Id.
  4. Id. at *2.
  5. 55 S.W.3d 222 (Tex. App.–Eastland 2001, pet. denied).
  6. Exxon 2002 WL 1428118 at *3-5.
  7. Id. at *3.
  8. Id.
  9. Id. at *4.
  10. Id. at *5.
  11. Id.
  12. 157 Tex. 479, 304 S.W.2d 362 (Tex. 1957).
  13. Exxon, 2002 WL 1428118 at *6.
  14. Warren Petroleum, 304 S.W.2d at 363.