SE Texas Record

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

9th District court upholds dismissal of man's claims for legal fees in chemical spill dispute

By Erianne Leatherman | Feb 16, 2018


BEAUMONT – A man has lost a bid to repeal a trial court ruling in favor of Samson Exploration LLC centered on a dispute about a chemical spill on his property and who was to be held liable for the costs and subsequent legal action.

The Court of Appeals for the 9th District of Texas at Beaumont affirmed Feb. 1 the previous ruling from the 160th District Court of Orange County that granted Samson Exploration LLC's motion for summary judgment, denied Ambrose Claybar's motion for summary judgment and dismissed Claybar's claims with prejudice.

According to the opinion, Claybar and Samson Exploration entered into an agreement for Samson to install crude oil tanks on Claybar’s property. That agreement allowed Samson to contract Kinder Morgan Treating LP to run and maintain a treatment plant on the same property.

Following those agreements, one of the pumps at the treatment plant allegedly failed and leaked chemicals onto Claybar's property in 2012. Claybar then filed a lawsuit against Samson and Kinder Morgan for the damages and later settled with Kinder Morgan. However, Claybar then alleged that due to his agreement with Samson, the company should compensate him for the property damage and legal fees he incurred from the lawsuit against Kinder Morgan.

The appellate panel struck down Claybar’s accusation, stating that indemnity agreements don't apply to these types of claims.

The opinion stated that “the plain language of the indemnity provision does not show that the parties intended for Samson to indemnify Claybar for attorneys' fees and costs in pursuing claims against Samson and Kinder Morgan for damages to Claybar’s property. ... If Samson and Claybar had intended to include claims between them, they would have had to specifically add such language to the agreement. We hold that there is no specific language in the agreement that would overcome the general rule that indemnity agreements do not generally apply to claims between the parties to the agreement.”

According to the opinion, Claybar and Samson each filed cross-motions for a summary judgment for the trial court to rule on the disagreement, with the main issue being “whether the indemnity provision of the agreement requires Samson to pay Claybar’s attorneys fees and costs in pursuing his negligence claims against Kinder Morgan.”  

Claybar’s complaint stated Samson violated its agreement and was therefore responsible for compensating him for the property damage caused by Kinder Morgan and associated legal fees he incurred in his lawsuit against Kinder Morgan.

Samson responded by saying that the indemnity provision is only applicable in the case of Claybar defending against suits from third parties, which is not what occurred in this case.

The trial court said in a letter opinion that “a defining characteristic of an indemnity agreement is that it ‘does not apply to claims between the parties to the agreement” and said that “the intent of the parties was to enter into an indemnity agreement that required Samson to indemnify and hold Claybar harmless from any claims made against him as a result of the negligence of the defendants[,]” and “no one made any claims whatsoever against Claybar as a result of the negligence of [the] defendants.”

Court of Appeals 9th District of Texas at Beaumont case number 09-16-00435-CV

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