Oyster Leases vs. Oil Wells: A Legal Battle Unfolds in a Louisiana Construction Dispute


Have you ever wondered what happens when things go wrong on a construction project? A recent case out of Louisiana sheds light on the complicated legal battles that can ensue when construction defects are discovered. The case highlights the importance of understanding your legal rights and options when dealing with construction disputes and the need for skilled legal representation to navigate the complex world of construction law.

The owner of multiple oyster leases, Wade White, filed a lawsuit against Cox Operating, LLC, seeking damages for the harm caused to his oyster beds during Cox’s drilling of oil wells. In 2000, Cox entered into an agreement with White when it began drilling wells near some of his oyster leases. Cox negotiated another drilling release with White in 2012 when it sought to drill more wells near his leases. However, White discovered that Cox had driven pilings into his oyster leases and was using routes that differed from the agreed-upon routes. As a result, Cox removed the pilings and continued to follow the previous routes. Cox later claimed the executed drilling releases covered any damages caused by the pilings and extra water traffic.

White then filed a lawsuit against Cox due to the pilings, and Cox filed an exception of res judicata, arguing the written releases barred the plaintiff’s suit. If someone wants to use the res judicata defense in a lawsuit, they need to prove it is true using evidence that shows it’s more likely than not true. Then, at the trial, they can bring in more evidence to support their argument as long as the reasons for using that evidence were already brought up before the trial.

The trial court granted Cox’s exception without holding a formal evidentiary hearing, but the appellate court found the trial court erred in not holding one. As a result, the appellate court vacated the trial court’s decision and remanded the matter for a formal evidentiary hearing. The court also considered Cox’s motion to dismiss White’s appeal. Cox argued the judgment in favor of them was not final and appealable because they had filed a counterclaim against White, and that counterclaim had not yet been resolved. Cox argued that until the counterclaim was resolved, the judgment could not be considered final and appealable. 

However, the trial court did not consider any evidence or testimony related to Cox’s reconventional demand. As a result, the court found the matters were tried separately, triggering the application of two articles of the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure (La. C.C.P.). Here, La. C.C.P. art 1915(A)(4) applies because the reconventional demand was not considered in the trial, and La. C.C.P. art 1915(A)(1) applies because the trial court dismissed all of White’s claims except for res judicata. As a result, Cox’s Motion to Dismiss was denied. Additionally, the court vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded the matter for an evidentiary hearing. See Coston v. Seo, 12-0216 (La. App. 4 Cir. 8/15/12), 99 So. 3d 83.

This case highlights the importance of understanding the complexities of construction law and the need for skilled legal representation in resolving construction disputes. It also underscores the significance of following legal procedures and clearly understanding the language used in legal judgments to avoid confusion and potential legal battles. Moreover, it emphasizes the need for all claims and liabilities to be resolved before pursuing an appeal to ensure that the court has jurisdiction to review the case. If you are facing a construction dispute or any other legal issue, seeking the guidance of an experienced attorney can be crucial in protecting your rights and achieving a favorable outcome.


Written by: Juliana Greco

Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Construction Law:  Louisiana Court of Appeals Affirms Judgment in Favor of Defendant Companies in Property Damage Lawsuit

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