Atmos Energy Corp. v. Paul, No. 02-19-00042-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 1926 (Tex.App.-Ft. Worth, Mar. 5, 2020, no pet.)
In this case the Fort Worth Court of Appeals held that a “blanket easement” for multiple pipelines did not require the grantee to lay the additional pipelines along the same route as the initial pipeline, but rather the grantee was permitted to lay the additional pipeline anywhere upon the entire tract so long as its location does not unreasonably interfere with grantor’s property rights.
The basis for the suit stems from a right-of-way and easement granted in 1960 on a 137-acre tract for the purpose of “construct[ing], maintain[ing] and operat[ing] pipelines.” Soon after the initial conveyance, grantee constructed Line W which runs parallel to the southern border of the tract. Decades later, in 2017, Atmos Energy Corp. (“Atmos”) intended to construct a second pipeline along a markedly different route on the other side of the property. Paul (the successor-in-interest of the 1960 grantor) denied Atmos access to the property to begin construction of the pipeline. Atmos filed suit against Paul for breach of the right-of-way and easement agreement.
At trial, Paul moved for summary judgment on the basis that the Easement Agreement only permitted the creation of “one right-of-way and easement” that “allows for multiple pipelines, [but] not multiple easements.” The trial court granted Paul’s summary judgment motion and Atmos appealed.
On appeal, the Court began by stating the Easement Agreement was a “blanket easement” because the legal description only described a burdened tract but not a route for the easement. In addition, the Court noted that the deed’s granting clause permitted grantee to construct multiple pipelines. On this basis, the court distinguished the prior Texas Supreme Court holding in Houston Pipe Line Co. v. Dwyer, 374 S.W.2d 662, 665-66 (Tex. 1964), as the deed in that case provided for the construction of a single pipeline and held that the location of the initial pipeline established the route for that one line, but that was not determinative of the location of subsequent pipelines such as in this case.
The court rejected that argument, indicating that there is no strict requirement to use that language, so long as there are other indicia of the drafter’s intent permitting pipelines to be constructed in multiple routes along the blanket easement.
Nevertheless, the Court stated the grantee’s ability to construct a pipeline on any part of the property is not without its limitations. The Court made note of the “reasonable necessity test” that applies to all such Texas cases. Under Texas law, the Court held, a grant or reservation of an easement in general terms implies a grant of unlimited “reasonable use,” such as is “reasonably necessary and convenient and as little burdensome as possible to the servient owner.”