Texas Lawbook Reports on Unusual "Surprise Elements" of Trial and Appeal

The Texas Lawbook called the trial “quirky,” and some of the procedural rulings surprised even veteran Shook trial lawyer and Partner Pete Henk.

For example, the court ordered a combined 45-minute voir dire and opening statements, Henk told the Texas LawbookAnd after the plaintiffs concluded their case, the judge granted the defendants’ motion to judgment as a matter of law on all claims.

“I've never seen a moment like that in the courtroom as far as a surprise element,” Henk said. “The judge ruled immediately after I finished arguing the motion, told the jury they can go home, and then left the courtroom. I am used to seeing trial judges denying or deferring on such motions because they are unwilling to acknowledge that the plaintiff failed to meet her burden of proof (without first seeing jury's verdict). It was refreshing to see the court bring an end to the case, although I think the jury would have returned a defense verdict,” Henk added.

The plaintiffs appealed, but the pleasant surprises continued; an appellate court told plaintiffs' attorney, “You go on with your argument, but speaking for myself alone, I think this is one of the most ludicrous cases I have ever seen.”

But three years of contentious litigation between the Sinclair Companies and Seismic Wells L.L.C. over an oil and gas lease finally came to an end after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit entered an order on October 5, 2018, denying the Seismic Wells’ petition for rehearing of a three-judge panel’s August 31, 2018, opinion affirming the trial court’s judgment.  In the August 31 opinion, the Fifth Circuit sided with Sinclair, finding (as to most of the claims) that Seismic Wells “sat on its rights too long before filing suit, June 5, 2015, nine years after every alleged fraudulent representation or nondisclosure occurred.”

Henk tried the case with Associate Ben Walther; they practice in Shook’s Houston office.

The case is  Seismic Wells, L.L.C.; Barry Tranckino v The Sinclair Companies; Sinclair Oil Corporation; Sinclair Oil and Gas Company; and Ross B. Matthews. No. 17-10373 (5th Cir.)