Case Summaries - Energy

Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category
Vital, et al. v. National Oilwell Varco

AZA defeated a nationally-known civil rights lawyer when the firm secured a victory for client National Oilwell Varco in a discrimination lawsuit filed by employees seeking $120 million.

Houston-based NOV, an oilfield equipment supplier, argued that the eight current and former African American employees were not treated differently because of their race. The federal jury heard 12 days of testimony in the trial before Judge Lee H. Rosenthal in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

The plaintiffs were represented by high-profile civil rights lawyer Angela M. Alioto of San Francisco’s Law Offices of Mayor Joseph L. Alioto and Angela Alioto. The lawsuit complained of racial discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation. It alleged non-African-Americans got raises and promotions that were denied to the plaintiffs, in addition to claiming that racial slurs were frequently used in the workplace. But the jury found that NOV had not violated the rights of the plaintiffs, seven former NOV employees and one current NOV employee.

Special trial counsel John Zavitsanos, called in just a few months before trial by co-counsel, offered evidence that showed there were several non-discriminatory reasons some of the workers did not receive promotions, were not asked to return to their jobs after taking unauthorized leave or were fired for cause.

AZA Lawyers: John Zavitsanos and Nathan Campbell.

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In re SemCrude, L.P.

AZA prevailed for a client with $115 million at stake in an energy sector lawsuit filed by more than 100 oil and gas producers.

SemCrude, a major midstream oil and gas company, filed for bankruptcy in 2008 without paying the oil and gas producers who sold to SemCrude in the preceding months. When those producers could not get full recovery from the bankruptcy estate, they filed suit against the downstream pipeline companies who purchased gas from SemCrude, including AZA client Plains Marketing, L.P.

AZA participated in over 225 depositions in the case. Plains did settle with one producer because their oil was proven to be held by Plains. Before the key February 2013 summary judgment hearing, AZA convinced many producers to abandon their claims against Plains, saving Plains over $30 million. After the hearing, other producers “settled” with Plains which paid absolutely no money to those producers, saving Plains more than $70 million more.

AZA lawyers: John Zavitsanos, Elizabeth Fletcher, Tim ShelbyDebora Simon Pacholder and Jane Robinson.

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WCT Cowboy Country Ranches, L.L.C. v. Energen Resources Corporation, Plains Marketing, L.P., Plains Marketing GP, Inc., et al

AZA was hired by Plains in the defense of a $400 million trespass case in Texas’ oil-rich Permian Basin. AZA’s aggressive and creative pretrial motions stripped down this case before the first potential juror entered the courthouse.

The surface owner of a large ranch, WCT Cowboy Country Ranches, LLC, negotiated agreements with Energen Resources, the operator of oil and gas wells throughout the ranch.  WCT Cowboy Country interpreted these agreements as allowing access to Energen and oil marketers like Plains only via specified private roads to certain wells.  Use of the “wrong” road would cost Energen or Plains $50 to $100 per “rod” (a distance equal to 16.5 feet) for each use.  Using this formula, WCT Cowboy Country claimed Plains owed more than $400 million in damages.

The case was contentious and hard-fought, with multiple depositions of executives and truck drivers and multiple court hearings in the rural town of Monahans, Texas. AZA argued pre-trial “special exceptions” that slashed the plaintiff’s damages model in half.  A partial motion for summary judgment granted on the eve of trial eliminated the plaintiff’s punitive damages theory and cut the value of claims against Plains to barely more than $300,000.

Although WCT Cowboy tried to settle before trial, Plains refused.  On the weekend before trial, WCT Cowboy Country gave up completely and dismissed all of its claims against Plains without Plains paying any settlement.

AZA lawyers: Tim Shelby, Jane Robinson and Adam Milasincic.

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Schlumberger Limited and Schlumberger Technology Corporation v. Charlotte Rutherford

In only five months, AZA helped client Charlotte Rutherford get four-fifths of her case dismissed and those who sued her slapped with record high fees and sanctions totaling $600,000. This case illustrates AZA’s ability to shred a case in pretrial and beat bigger firms. Ms. Rutherford, Schlumberger’s former Deputy General Counsel for IP, faced highly publicized “revenge” litigation from Schlumberger. AZA achieved extraordinary results – leaving the case with only one cause of action and little hope for damages. AZA also left Schlumberger tagged with $350,000 in attorney’s fees and $250,000 in sanctions for overreaching in its allegations. Both fees and sanctions are record highs under the law.

Rutherford had left Schlumberger to join Acacia Research Group to lead its move into the energy sector. After her new employer sued Schlumberger for patent infringement, Schlumberger launched a scorched-earth attack against her. Before she hired AZA, Rutherford was confronted with a Schlumberger TRO based on affidavits that AZA later proved to be false. Once retained, AZA forced Schlumberger to voluntarily dissolve the TRO and abandon its attempt at a temporary injunction.

AZA lawyers: Joseph Y. Ahmad, Tim Shelby, and Adam Milasincic

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Air Liquide Large Industries U.S., LP v. NRM Investments, Inc., et al.

In this energy sector contract lawsuit, AZA prevailed on all claims in a jury trial and obtained a permanent injunction against its client’s opponent. This case shows AZA’s ability to be creative, focused and fierce in trial and includes a spectacular case-winning cross-examination. It also illustrates how AZA’s boutique efficiency can win the day with the firm’s three lawyers besting the opposition’s nine.

NRM sought $2.5 million in damages, alleging fraud and breach of contract and complaining that Air Liquide sold NRM industrial materials with valuable nickel and chromium but also containing hazardous waste in violation of the contract and California law. Air Liquide denied the allegations and sought $1.5 million still owed under the contract.

AZA’s Todd Mensing got a remarkable 15 potential jurors struck for cause (a quarter of the panel) by showing their bias against Air Liquide because it is a large multinational company.  Mr. Mensing’s relentless cross-examination of NRM’s primary environmental law expert ended with the key witness admitting he wasn’t an expert. At the end of the 2½- week trial, the jury rejected all NRM’s claims and awarded Air Liquide $1.7 million, representing Air Liquide’s full damages, including attorneys’ fees.

Air Liquide also obtained a permanent injunction barring NRM from attempting to return the materials to Air Liquide. NRM had threatened to dump the materials at Air Liquide’s Houston offices or its executive’s home during the dispute.

AZA lawyers: Todd Mensing, Tim Shelby and Tiffany Joudi.

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BP Oil Pipeline Co. v. Plains Pipeline, L.P.

AZA defended Plains All American Pipeline against BP Oil Pipeline Company’s claims for indemnity in a pipeline dispute. The court later awarded Plains Pipeline $453,400 in attorneys’ fees.

BP sought to force Plains Pipeline to indemnify BP in a Louisiana lawsuit. Before AZA was hired, the Court granted summary judgment for BP, requiring Plains to cover BP’s losses, including attorneys’ fees. AZA asked the court to reconsider, got the summary judgment reversed, and won summary judgment for Plains, obtaining the substantial attorneys’ fees for Plains for defending the lawsuit.

AZA Lawyers: John Zavitsanos and  Elizabeth Pannill Fletcher.

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Sentinel Integrity Solutions, Inc. v. Mistras Group, Inc. (Trademark)

AZA defended Mistras Group, Inc., a major nondestructive testing provider, against claims for trademark infringement and dilution brought by Sentinel Integrity Solutions Inc.  Sentinel brought a claim for $8 million in damages. AZA not only won on the trademark infringement claim with the federal judge, but got the jury to agree to invalidate the trademark.

After hiring AZA, Mistras filed counterclaims against Sentinel, the owner of a stylized logo and registered trademark, seeking to have the trademark invalidated and, further, seeking a declaratory judgment finding that the trademark is a widely used phrase that was generic or descriptive, and could not be trademarked.

After both parties’ evidence had been presented to a jury in federal court in Houston, the court granted judgment as a matter of law for Mistras on the trademark infringement claim, and the jury later found for Mistras on all the remaining claims, finding that the trademark was generic.

The court issued a final judgment awarding Mistras the relief it sought, including an order cancelling the trademark, as well as its costs, and denying all of the Sentinel’s claims.

AZA Lawyers: John Zavitsanos, Elizabeth Pannill Fletcher, Todd Mensing and Jane Robinson.

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Sentinel Integrity Solutions, Inc. v. Mistras Group, Inc., et al.

Sentinel Integrity Solutions, Inc. v. Mistras Group, Inc., et al.

AZA successfully defended Mistras Group, Inc. and its employees in a $9 million lawsuit alleging breach of non-competition agreements, theft of trade secrets and tortious interference.

Mistras, a global leader in assessing the safety of large corporate infrastructure components such as refineries and bridges, was wrongly accused by competitor Sentinel Integrity Solutions of tortious interference. AZA defeated Sentinel’s efforts to obtain a temporary restraining order and a temporary injunction, and later prevailed in a three-week jury trial. AZA also convinced the jury to make Sentinel pay $750,000 in attorneys’ fees through trial plus fees on appeal.

The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s final judgment, upholding the $750,000 fee award to AZA’s client. According to Texas Lawyer  and Verdict Search, this original jury award of attorneys’ fees was the fourth-largest defense verdict delivered in Texas in 2011.

AZA Lawyers: John Zavitsanos and Elizabeth Pannill Fletcher.  AZA served as lead counsel for both trial and appeal.

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IEVM v. United Energy Group Ltd., et al.

AZA developed the winning argument that knocked this $46.5 million fraud and breach of contract case out of court before AZA’s client was even required to participate in discovery. AZA was able to destroy the case against its client even though a co-defendant was not able to obtain the same clean win.

Energy investment bank Mueller Chen & Co LLC represented Hong Kong-based United Energy Group Ltd. (“UEG”) in its 2011 acquisition of BP’s exploration and production assets in Pakistan for around $800 million. A consulting group, International Energy Ventures Management LLC (“IEVM”), assisted United Energy Group in evaluating the BP assets. IEVM then claimed it was owed a $46.5 million success fee following the acquisition.

AZA used the same facts IEVM used to support its claims, but AZA applied new, more robust legal analysis in arguing that IEVM’s claims for fraud and breach of contract were fundamentally flawed. The court agreed, unconditionally dismissing all claims against AZA’s client.

AZA lawyers: Elizabeth Fletcher.

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