adjusting his gloveQuiz: How is baseball not like litigation?

  1. Sloppy play can lose the game
  2. Production sometimes declines after a big signing
  3. Lawyers don’t wear athletic supporters to work
  4. When the judge says “Call your next witness”, lawyers don’t step out of the batters’ box to adjust their gloves while the jury waits
  5. “Pace of play” is a constant debate
  6. Baseball doesn’t have a clock

Plaintiffs who fail to pay attention to the clock that is the statute of limitations end up as just more detritus littering courtrooms everywhere. See Ranchero Esperanza. Ltd. v. Marathon Oil Company.

What Happened and When

1989 – Marathon plugs and abandons Well 812 in Crockett County, Texas.

2004 – Rancho Esperanza purchases a 32-section ranch and undivided half in the Trinity Aquifer beneath the property. Well 812 is on the ranch.

July 2008 – The well begins leaking salt water onto the surface, apparently due to injection activity in other wells nearby.

July 22, 2008 – Aspen, now the operator of nearby wells, notices saltwater flowing from Well 812, stops the flow, and cleans and remediates the area.

July 28, 2008 – The day RE says it discovers the leak.

July 27, 2010 – RE sues

Did RE Have Standing to Sue?

Yes. The cause of action for injury to land is a personal right belonging to the person owning the property at the time of injury.  A subsequent purchaser cannot recover for an injury committed before his or her purchase unless that right is assigned to it.  R E had standing to file the suit.  The injury occurred in 2008 when the saltwater appeared, not in 1989 when Marathon negligently plugged the well.

Was RE Too Late?

Yes. When does a cause of action accrue for injury to property?  When a wrongful act causes some legal injury, even if the fact of the injury is not discovered until later and even if all resulting damages have not yet occurred.

RE’s cause of action accrued in July 2008 when the surface damages first resulted from the alleged deficient plugging.

RE’s bigger problem was that it waited too long to bring suit.  The claims were subject to the two-year statute of limitations.  The leak was discovered on July 20, 2008 and RE sued on July 27, 2010.  RE’s foreman saw the leak on July 28 (in which case the filing would have been just in time) but he admitted that had he driven to the well a week earlier he might have discovered the leak.

The discovery rule did not apply because the nature of the injury incurred – surface damages arising from saltwater flowing from a well onto the surface – is not inherently undiscoverable.

And we’ll never know if the  jury would have deemed Marathon negligent.

Musical Interludes – Other things that are bad for you besides being too late to the courthouse:

One we all know about

A common human experience

One that starts out good but can go really wrong