Founded in 1917 in Houston during Texas' oil boom days, Vinson & Elkins grew up helping oil and gas clients resolve disputes and touts itself as "one of the world's leading energy law firms."
"It is a big, big part of what we do and who we are," says V&E Houston partner Jim Thompson, chairman of the firm's complex litigation practice group, which includes energy litigation practice.
Thompson says virtually all of the approximately 140 lawyers in his practice group handle matters derived from the energy industry and many of V&E's litigators have engineering or technical backgrounds. Before becoming a lawyer, he worked as a petroleum engineer, Thompson says.
"We go in speaking the industry's language," he says. "In this industry, you better be able to talk the talk."
V&E's influence in the energy industry played a major role in a case the Louisiana Supreme Court decided on March 19.
The issue in Clovelly Oil Co. LLC v. Midstates Petroleum Co. LLC, which involved a $100 million dispute,was whether a model form joint operating agreement (JOA) promulgated by the American Association of Professional Landmen covers future oil and gas leases within the geographic area described by the JOA. Neither Midstates nor Clovelly had been parties to the 1972 JOA. But in 2009, after Midstates secured an oil and gas lease in an area covered by the JOA, Clovelly contended the lease was covered under the agreement. Clovelly also claimed a 56.25 percent interest in the new lease and the right to work it.
Marie Yeates, a partner in V&E's Houston office, began representing Midstates after the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the trial court in Clovelly, ruling that the JOA did cover future leases in a particular area.
Patrick Martin, a retired Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert School of Law professor, served as Yeates co-counsel for Clovelly. Martin says the V&E team not only was able to pick up the litigation where it was on appeal but also was able to persuade four energy industry groups to submit amicus curiae briefs to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
"I think that was an important part of getting the Louisiana Supreme Court's attention," Martin says.
Yeates says the Louisiana Supreme Court's decision in Clovelly is important because the intermediate appellate court's holding set a bad precedent.
"It affects every oil and gas producing state," she says.
Taylor Darden, a founder and member of Carver, Darden, Koretzky, Tessier, Finn, Blossman & Areaux in New Orleans, represented Clovelly in the case and says he has nothing but compliments for Yeates' skill and professionalism.
"It would be a pleasure to have all my cases with a lawyer of her caliber," Darden says. "It would make my job easier."
The V&E lawyers also suffered a setback in representing one energy client. In May 2012, they won dismissal of toxic tort claims made against Denver gas production company Antero Resources Corp. and other defendants in Strudley, et al. v, Antero Resources Corp., et al. But on July 3, 2013, the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal granted by the trial court.
The Strudley plaintiffs, whose home was near a well operated by Antero, allege they have been exposed to toxic and hazardous substances as a result of Antero's hydraulic fracturing operations. They assert claims of trespass, nuisance, negligence, negligence per se and strict liability.
Thompson, who leads the V&E team, says the trial court had granted a modified case management order, known as a Lone Pine order, which required, prior to discovery, that the plaintiffs make a prima facie showing of exposure and causation. The order derives its name from Lore v. Lone Pine Corp., a 1986 toxic tort case in which a New Jersey court issued a modified case management order.
"Knowing that the evidence was either nil or very sparse, we charted out this course to see if the judge would bite on this modified case management . . . and she did," Thompson says.
Thompson says the plaintiffs failed to meet the elements of causation in the order, and Judge Ann B. Frick dismissed the suit with prejudice in May 2012.
However, the appeals court in Colorado found that the trial court erred in granting the Lone Pine order because there was no showing of extraordinary circumstances to require departure from the civil rules of procedure. The appeals court remanded the case to the trial court.
Antero and the other defendants sought an extension of time for filing a petition for writ of certiorari with the Colorado Supreme Court, which it granted Aug. 1.