Cooper v. Chevron USA, Inc., 26,609.

Citation132 N.M. 382,49 P.3d 61,2002 NMSC 20
Decision Date04 June 2002
Docket NumberNo. 26,609.,26,609.
PartiesJimmie T. COOPER, Individually and as Trustee for the Jimmie T. Cooper and Betty P. Cooper Revocable Trust and Betty P. Cooper, Individually and as Trustee for the Jimmie T. Cooper and Betty P. Cooper Revocable Trust, Plaintiffs-Respondents, v. CHEVRON U.S.A., INC., Amerada Hess Corporation, and Rice Engineering Corporation, Defendants-Petitioners. Jimmie T. Cooper, Individually and as Trustee for the Jimmie T. Cooper and Betty P. Cooper Revocable Trust and Betty P. Cooper, Individually and as Trustee for the Jimmie T. Cooper and Betty P. Cooper Revocable Trust, Plaintiffs-Respondents, v. Arch Petroleum, Inc., and Rice Engineering Corporation, Defendants-Petitioners.
CourtSupreme Court of New Mexico

Hinkle, Hensley, Shanor & Martin, L.L.P. Thomas D. Haines, Jr. Roswell, NM Holland & Hart, L.L.P., Campbell & Carr Bradford C. Berge Santa Fe, NM Atwood, Malone, Turner & Sabin, P.A. Rod M. Schumacher Barbara A. Patterson Roswell, NM for Petitioners.

Gallegos Law Firm, P.C. J.E. Gallegos Michael J. Condon Santa Fe, NM Gallagher, Young, Lewis, Hampton & Downey Craig Lewis Andrew Sher Houston, TX for Respondents.

OPINION

FRANCHINI, Justice.

{1} Plaintiffs-Respondents ("Plaintiffs") brought an environmental action in Santa Fe County against a number of oil and gas companies. The complaint stated various claims stemming from Defendants-Petitioners' ("Defendants") alleged contamination of Plaintiffs' property. The trial court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss for improper venue. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that venue was proper in Santa Fe County against some, but not all Defendants. Cooper v. Amerada Hess Corp., 2000-NMCA-100, ¶ 36, 129 N.M. 710, 13 P.3d 68. We granted certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' opinion. Defendants argue that the Court of Appeals erred in: (1) determining that this lawsuit did not involve an interest in land; (2) allowing venue against some of the foreign corporation Defendants in Santa Fe County; and (3) concluding that improper venue as to some of the Defendants did not require dismissal of all Defendants. We affirm in part and reverse in part. We hold: (1) this lawsuit did not involve an interest in land; (2) venue was proper in Santa Fe County against the Defendants who maintained statutory agents in Santa Fe County; and (3) because venue was proper in Santa Fe County as to some of the Defendants, it was proper as to all Defendants who are parties to this appeal.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURE

{2} Plaintiffs own and reside on the Monument Springs Ranch in Lea County, New Mexico. Defendants, along with a number of other companies, lease the rights to conduct oil and gas operations on the property. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants have released hazardous substances into surface and subsurface soils, strata and groundwater. Plaintiffs further allege that this contamination has caused property damage to the ranch and personal injuries to themselves.

{3} Plaintiffs filed suit in Santa Fe County, asserting claims for negligence, trespass, nuisance, unjust enrichment, and infliction of emotional distress against: (a) foreign corporations with statutory agents in Santa Fe County (Amerada Hess Corp.; Chevron, U.S.A., Inc.; Dynegy Corp.; Concho Resources, Inc.; Arch Petroleum, Inc.; and Rice Engineering, Inc.); (b) a foreign corporation (Rhombus Energy Co.) and a foreign partnership (Rhombus Operating Co., Ltd.) who share a statutory agent in Chaves County; and (c) a domestic corporation (Primero Operating Co., Ltd.). The District Court ruled that the complaint "affect[ed] an interest in lands" and therefore dismissed the claims against all Defendants on the grounds that Santa Fe County was an improper venue.

{4} The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's determination that this lawsuit involved an interest in land. Cooper, 2000-NMCA-100, ¶¶ 23-25, 129 N.M. 710, 13 P.3d 68. Accordingly, NMSA 1978, § 38-3-1(D) (1988), which controls venue for causes of action that have land or an interest in land as their object, did not apply. Id. ¶ 26. With regard to the Defendants with statutory agents in Santa Fe County, the Court held that venue was proper in any New Mexico county, including Santa Fe County, pursuant to NMSA 1978, § 38-3-1(F) (1988). Id. ¶ 31. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court had erred in dismissing the action against these Defendants. Id. With regard to the other Defendants, however, the Court held that venue was not proper in Santa Fe County, and therefore affirmed the trial court's dismissal as to these Defendants. We granted certiorari in order to review the Court of Appeals' opinion.

II. DISCUSSION
A. Whether venue is proper in Santa Fe County.

{5} The motion to dismiss for improper venue raises a question of law which we review de novo. Williams v. Bd. of County Comm'rs, 1998-NMCA-090, ¶ 28, 125 N.M. 445, 963 P.2d 522. In the present case, we review de novo whether venue is proper in Santa Fe County. Whether a civil action may be filed in a particular county depends on a series of considerations enumerated by NMSA 1978, § 38-3-1 (1988). Among other provisions, Section 38-3-1(D) mandates that if the object of an action is land or an interest in land, then the action must be commenced in the county where the land is situated. In contrast, proper venue for a transitory action depends on the residence of the defendant. If the defendant is a New Mexico resident, then Section 38-3-1(A) requires that the lawsuit be filed in any county in which a party resides, where the contract or cause of action originated, or in any county where the defendant may be found within the judicial district where the defendant resides.

{6} If the defendant to a transitory action is a foreign corporation, then under Section 38-3-1(F) one final distinction applies. If the foreign corporation defendant does not have a registered statutory agent in New Mexico, then venue is proper in any New Mexico county. However, if the foreign corporation defendant "maintain[s] a statutory agent in this state upon whom service of process may be had" then venue is proper only in the county where a plaintiff resides, in the county where a contract at issue was made or is to be performed, in the county where the cause of action originated or indebtedness was incurred, or lastly, in the county where the statutory agent designated by the foreign corporation resides. See § 38-3-1(F).

B. Whether the object of this action is "lands or an interest in lands" under Section 38-3-1(D).

{7} Under Section 38-3-1(D)(1), "[w]hen lands or any interest in lands are the object of any suit in whole or in part, the suit shall be brought in the county where the land or any portion of the land is situate." Thus, if the object of Plaintiffs' lawsuit is lands or an interest in lands, then venue will only be proper in Lea County. If, on the other hand, the action is transitory, then Plaintiffs are free to choose venue in accordance with the remaining provisions of Section 38-3-1.

{8} Claims for damages do not have lands or interest in lands as their object. Accordingly, a lawsuit comprised exclusively of claims for damages need not be brought in the county where the land is situated. Team Bank v. Meridian Oil Inc., 118 N.M. 147, 149, 879 P.2d 779, 781 (1994); Jemez Land Co. v. Garcia, 15 N.M. 316, 321, 107 P. 683, 685 (1910), overruled on other grounds by Kalosha v. Novick, 84 N.M. 502, 504, 505 P.2d 845, 847 (1973)

. In the present case, the Court of Appeals determined that Plaintiffs were requesting injunctive relief as well as damages. Cooper, 2000-NMCA-100, ¶ 2, 129 N.M. 710, 13 P.3d 68 ("Plaintiffs also requested injunctive relief, apparently to restrain Defendants from further tortious acts."). Accordingly, the Court questioned whether Plaintiffs' "request for injunctive relief converts this case into an action involving an interest in land." Id. ¶ 23. The Court reasoned that Jemez Land Co. created a dichotomy between actions to redress tortious injury to real property and actions to adjudicate title to real property. Id. Because the present action fell into the former category, the Court of Appeals concluded the object of the lawsuit was not lands or interest in lands within the meaning of Section 38-3-1(D)(1). Id.

{9} We do not agree with the Court of Appeals that Plaintiffs made a request for injunctive relief. The conclusion of Plaintiffs' complaint requests that the trial court grant judgment against Defendants "for the injunctive relief set forth above." However, careful review of the complaint reveals that Plaintiffs never set forth a request for any injunctive relief. Indeed, even if the trial court had granted all forms of relief requested by Plaintiffs in the complaint, no injunction would have ensued. Because this case did not involve an actual claim for injunctive relief, the Court of Appeals' analysis of whether injunctions constitute an interest in land was advisory, and it is hereby overruled. Although we disagree with the reasoning employed in the Court of Appeals' decision, the result that it reached was correct. Because the sole object of this suit is damages, Section 38-3-1(D)(1) does not apply to this action. Jemez Land Co. 15 N.M. at 321, 107 P. at 685. We therefore affirm the Court of Appeals' holding that "Plaintiffs were not required by Section 38-3-1(D)(1) to file their action in Lea County." Cooper, 2000-NMCA-100, ¶ 26, 129 N.M. 710, 13 P.3d 68.

{10} The dissent suggests that Plaintiffs' complaint made reference to a continuing nuisance and therefore adequately invoked injunctive relief. Dissent ¶ 37. With regard to the continuing nuisance claim, Plaintiffs' complaint only "seek[s] a recovery of the reasonable and necessary costs associated with restoring those portions of the Ranch that remain contaminated by the Defendants' operation, to their condition prior to that...

To continue reading

Request your trial
83 cases
  • State v. Wilson
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court
    • June 7, 2021
    ...unless the [L]egislature indicates a different interpretation is necessary." Cooper v. Chevron USA, Inc. , 2002-NMSC-020, ¶ 16, 132 N.M. 382, 49 P.3d 61. However, we "will not be bound by a literal interpretation of the words if such strict interpretation would defeat the intended object of......
  • ETP Rio Rancho Park, LLC v. Grisham
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Mexico
    • February 8, 2021
    ...we give statutory language its ordinary meaning unless the Legislature indicates a different meaning is necessary. See Cooper v. Chevron, 2002-NMSC-020, 132 N.M. 382, 388 . Finally, we read statutes regarding the same subject matter together as harmoniously as possible in a way that facilit......
  • ETP Rio Rancho Park, LLC v. Grisham
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Mexico
    • February 26, 2021
    ...statutory language its ordinary meaning unless the Legislature indicates a different meaning is necessary. See Cooper v. Chevron, 2002-NMSC-020, 132 N.M. 382, 388, 49 P.3d 61. Finally, we read statutes regarding the same subject matter together as harmoniously as possible in a way that faci......
  • Kaywal, Inc. v. Avangrid Renewables, LLC
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • November 25, 2019
    ...2000-NMCA-100, ¶ 23, 129 N.M. 710, 13 P.3d 68, aff'd in part, rev'd in part on other grounds sub nom. Cooper v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc. (Cooper II ), 2002-NMSC-020, 132 N.M. 382, 49 P.3d 61, in which this Court reasoned that the Jemez Land Co. decision "was not intended to establish a damages-......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT