October 6, 2017
A recent Law 360 story by Jess Krochtengel, “Texas Energy Cos. Can’t Block Rival’s Atty Fee Win,” reports that a Texas appeals court affirmed a $280,000 attorneys’ fee award to Crawford Hughes Operating Co., rejecting arguments from a group of energy companies that formerly worked with Crawford that a trial court wrongly granted a new trial on the fee issue.
A panel of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals held Crawford’s pleadings support a recovery of defensive attorneys’ fees. The court also determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider arguments from Anglo-Dutch Energy LLC, Explorer Investments LLC and Saxton River Corp. that a trial court had wrongly allowed Crawford a new trial on attorneys’ fees.
The trial court had initially ruled Crawford could not recover any fees despite winning a jury trial in a dispute between the energy companies over bills for operating expenses incurred under multiple joint operating agreements. But it granted Crawford a partial new trial limited to the fee issue and ultimately awarded the company a total of about $280,000 in fees.
The Anglo-Dutch group had argued the new trial was improperly granted because there was no good cause to allow Crawford an opportunity to fix a “strategic mistake” in how it had initially requested attorneys’ fees. But the appellate panel said its authority to review new trial orders is limited, and that the circumstances in the Crawford trial don’t merit appellate review.
“The working interest appellants’ arguments on appeal do not invoke any of the scenarios in which appellate review is permitted,” the court said. “Because this challenge does not fall within one of the narrow exceptions identified by the Supreme Court of Texas, we lack appellate jurisdiction to entertain the working interest appellants’ challenge to the new trial orders.”
The dispute over operating expenses was tried in Harris County District Court in November and December 2014 and a jury awarded the Crawford entities about $44,000 in damages and $233,000 in legal fees. The trial judge initially struck Crawford’s fee award, finding the group did not properly attribute the fees to reflect the different entities, claims and counterclaims involved in the case. But Crawford asked the court to modify the judgment and requested a partial new trial limited to the amount of fees it could recover. The trial court agreed, prompting an earlier appeal from the Anglo-Dutch parties.
In December 2015, the Anglo-Dutch group asked the Texas Supreme Court to block Crawford from getting a new trial on the attorneys’ fee issue. They argued Crawford was trying to get a “mulligan” after making a strategic mistake in how it marshalled and presented its evidence.
When the case returned to the trial court, the parties stipulated the amount of fees Crawford Hughes Operating had incurred. A modified final judgment issued in May 2016 awarded Crawford Hughes Operating about $42,000 in damages against Anglo-Dutch and $2,600 in damages against Explorer Investments and Saxton River.
The modified judgment awards Crawford Hughes Operating about $240,000 against Anglo-Dutch and $7,400 against Explorer and Saxton River for attorneys’ fees incurred in defending the case and another $31,000 in fees against Anglo-Dutch and $2,000 in fees against Explorer and Saxton River for what it incurred litigating its counterclaim.
The case is Anglo-Dutch Energy LLC et al. v. Crawford Hughes Operating Co. et al., case number 14-16-00635-CV, in the Texas Court of Appeals for the Fourteenth District.