On November 21, 2007, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling in favor of Chevron U.S.A., Inc. (“Chevron”), the Plaquemines Parish Government (“PPG”), and others in a dispute with the State of Louisiana over the validity of a 1938 mineral lease granted by the Buras Levee District (“BLD”). The State of Louisiana had previously created the BLD and transferred to it all lands belonging to the State within its geographic borders, including the tract involved in the instant matter (Tract 1). In 1975, the BLD merged and consolidated with the PPG. The State of Louisiana asserted, among other arguments, that the merger and consolidation of the BLD with the PPG constituted an impermissible alienation of state minerals and that the State was entitled to the mineral revenues attributable to Tract 1 as an unleased owner. Faced with competing claims for royalty payments from the PPG and State of Louisiana, Chevron, as sublessee of the 1938 BLD lease, filed a petition for concursus and deposited royalty payments into the court registry.
Ultimately, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s finding that the State’s claims were barred by res judicata. Previously, in 1990, Chevron had filed a concursus to seek a resolution of competing claims made by the PPG and the State of Louisiana as to royalties applicable to a separate tract covered by the 1938 BLD Lease, Tract 87. In that prior litigation, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of PPG, finding that the 1938 BLD Lease was valid.
Here, the Fourth Circuit found that the instant case was barred by the doctrine of res judicata, since the present action concerning Tract 1 arose out of the same transaction or occurrence as the litigation concerning Tract 87. The court observed that the 1938 BLD Lease’s validity had been recognized by courts since 1943. Further, the real “cause of action” for res judicata purposes in both the Tract 87 litigation and the instant case was the immovable known as the 1938 BLD Lease, not any single tract of land contained therein. The court concluded that “[t]his is exactly the type of case to which res judicata applies” and “[t]o find otherwise would permit the State to file a series of separate actions challenging the ownership of mineral rights in each and every tract contained in the 1938 BLD Lease.” Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. State of Louisiana, et al., No. 2007-CA-0673, pp. 7-8 (La. App. 4th Cir. 11/21/07).