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Navigation District case reaches Texas’ highest court

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Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2019 3:25 pm

A local attorney has recently taken a case to the Texas Supreme Court. Richard Baker represents the Chambers-Liberty Counties Navigation District in a suit over its lease of some 23,000 acres of submerged land to Sustainable Texas Oyster Resource Management LLC (STORM).

The lease was made in 2014 and has sparked a number of lawsuits. Two of them were consolidated and argued before the high court on Jan. 23. Baker’s case is between the navigation district and the state with the state arguing that the terms of navigation district’s lease usurps a bit of state authority. The state issues certificates of location authorizing oystermen to harvest oysters in state waters, but the lease between the district and STORM includes language the state reads as effectively granting STORM certificates of location.

The district argues that is not what the lease does and that STORM must still obtain certificates of location from the state.

Some of the confusion, and perhaps some of the motivation for this and other suits, stems from the fact that the district actually owns the submerged land. That 23,000 acres was granted by the state to the navigation district by patents issued in 1957 and 1967. STORM’s lease gives it exclusive rights to cultivate and harvest oysters on the navigation disctrict’s land, and shortly after the lease was executed STORM sent letters to other oyster companies operating in Galveston Bay notifying them they were not to trespass on STORM’s leasehold.

The oral arguments made Jan. 23 before the Supreme Court revolved in part around whether other companies could troll for oysters in the leasehold because the bay remains public waters versus whether those companies could be excluded from the leasehold because the navigation district owns the land. That is, whether the wild oysters there are in the waters or on the land.

The state’s attorneys made much of the fact that landowners to not own the wildlife on their lands. Most wildlife, however, does not stay in place the way oysters do. The owner of a deer lease does not own the living deer that crosses the lease and moves on to his neighbor’s property, but neither does that neighbor have a right to take a deer from the leaseholder’s property.

Comparisons to deer leases took up a good bit of the court’s time as the justices posed questions to the attorneys for both sides.

A video of the oral arguments before the Texas Supreme Court is available for viewing online through the Texas Bar’s website here.

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1 comment:

  • Dennis Warren posted at 10:17 am on Fri, Feb 8, 2019.

    Dennis Warren Posts: 2

    Interesting contract law case. Follow the money to find the answer.