Co-author Rusty Tucker
Howard, et al. v. Matterhorn Energy, LLC, et al. [6th Dist.] May 4, 2021 considered the Texas Citizens Participation Act as amended, effective on September 1, 2019.
The lessors leased their minerals in 1,100+ acres in Harrison County to Matterhorn. To induce the deal, Matterhorn several representations to the lessors and agreed to a continuous development program. The lease required lessors to give 60 days’ notice of a breach before filing suit. Before the primary term expired gas prices dropped and Matterhorn decided to sell the lease.
The lessors sued Matterhorn for damages and rescission based on several causes of action and filed a notice of lis pendens. Matterhorn alleged it had contracted with EnergyNet to market its interest in the lease and that when lessors became aware they filed suit and a notice of lis pendens.
Testimony showed that the lessors made false misrepresentations about Matterhorn and Cherry to third parties (including prospective purchasers) prior to filing suit. Matterhorn claimed these discussions led to the termination of its sales agreement with EnergyNet. Matterhorn counterclaimed for tortious interference and business disparagement.
Lessors moved to dismiss Matterhorn’s claims under the TCPA because they were based on their petition and lis pendens and invoked their exercise of the right to petition the courts for relief. Lessors further argued they established an affirmative defense entitling them to judgment as matter of law because the counterclaims were barred by the judicial proceedings privilege.
Matterhorn responded that the communications forming the basis of their claims were among private parties, not the public, and occurred prior to the filing of the litigation. There was testimony about how lessors’ third party discussion and filing of the lawsuit and lis pendens caused Matterhorn to lose its ability to sell the lease. Plaintiff Howard admitted in a deposition that he filed the lawsuit before expiration of the primary term and before penalties under the lease were due to “put . . . a drain on” Matterhorn and affect its ability to “flip” the lease. The trial court denied lessors’ TCPA motion to dismiss.
The TCPA process
Resolving a TCPA claim occurs in three steps:
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