Atmos Energy Corp. v. Paul, 598 S.W.3d 431 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2020, no pet.) held that a blanket easement, which permitted the holder to construct multiple pipelines, authorized the holder to build across multiple paths. In 1960, Atmos’ predecessor-in-interest, Lone Star Gas Company, and Paul’s predecessors-in-interest entered into an Easement Agreement which covered 137 acres of property. In the Agreement, Paul’s predecessors conveyed Lone Star “the right of way and easement to construct, maintain and operate pipe lines and appurtenances thereto . . . over and through the following described lands situated in Denton County. . . . The property was described as a 137 acre tract, and it did not include a metes and bounds description. Additionally, the Agreement included a payment provision that set the payment amount “[s]hould more than one pipe line be laid under this grant at any time. . . .” That year, Lone Star installed Line W. Paul thereafter purchased 64 acres of the property’s 137 acres, and Atmos succeeded to Lone Star’s interest. The Line W easement crossed the 64 acres. In 2017, Atmos proposed a new pipeline, Line WD, which would cross a different portion of Paul’s land. Paul rejected the new pipeline, arguing that the Easement Agreement allows for multiple pipelines but only one easement path, which was set by Lone Star when it laid Line W. Atmos argued the Easement Agreement granted a blanket easement and sued Paul for breach of contract. The probate court granted Paul’s summary judgment motion and declared that the 1960 easement was not a blanket easement. Atmos appealed, and the court of appeals reversed and remanded.
The court of appeals began its analysis by examining the Easement Agreement and whether it qualifies as a blanket easement. “Under Texas law, a ‘blanket easement’ is ‘[a]n easement without a metes and bounds description of its location on the property’” Paul, 598 S.W.3d at 446 (quoting First Am. Title Ins. Co. of Tex. v. Willard, 949 S.W.2d 342, 344 n.2 (Tex. App.—Tyler 1997, writ denied)). “The purpose of a blanket easement is for the practical convenience of the easement holder to alter the exact location of the lines during construction”. The Easement Agreement in the present case does not contain a metes and bounds which specifies the exact location of the easement and instead references the entire 137 acres. Additionally, there is no language limiting the location or dimensions of any pipelines that are constructed on the property. Accordingly, the court concluded that the Easement Agreement unambiguously created a blanket easement.
Paul relied on certain caselaw, including Houston Pipe Line Company v. Dwyer, 374 S.W.2d 662 (Tex. 1964), to argue the Easement Agreement allows for multiple pipelines across only one easement path, which was set when Line W was constructed. In Dwyer, landowners granted a pipeline company a blanket easement to lay one pipeline across their land. The pipeline company laid a line with an eighteen-inch diameter in 1926, and in 1959 it removed the pipeline and installed a line with a thirty-inch diameter. The Supreme Court of Texas ruled that installing the thirty-inch pipeline was impermissible because once the eighteen-inch line was installed the grant became definite and fixed, and the pipeline size could not be increased nor its location changed. Paul contended that this ruling supports a holding that Line W set a fixed easement path of reasonable width to allow the placement of multiple lines and that the lines could not be placed elsewhere on the property. The court disagreed, concluding that Dwyer is distinguishable because it involves a single pipeline blanket easement. The court cited other opinions which similarly distinguished the Dwyer ruling, noting that: “A grant may authorize a use greater than the one actually used, and such prior use does not nullify the greater rights conveyed in the grant.”
Paul also relied on the ruling in Boland v. Nat. Gas Pipeline Co. of Am., 816 S.W.2d 843 (Tex. App. Fort Worth 1991, no writ.). Specifically, he pointed to the finding in Boland for the proposition that express language concerning multiple paths is necessary in the grant, and because the Easement Agreement does not contain the requisite express language the grant is limited to a single easement path. The court concluded that Boland does not mention the necessity of such express language and reasoned that such language would convey multiple paths but was not necessary. The court also disagreed that Paul’s additional cited caselaw supported his position due to his misinterpretations of the facts and holdings.
Paul additionally argued that the language in the Easement Agreement supported his position. Paul contended that the terms “the,” “right-of-way,” “easement,” “over,” and “through” in the conveyance of “the right of way and easement to construct, maintain and operate pipe lines and appurtenances thereto . . . over and through the following described lands . . .” indicate the conveyance of a singular easement path. The court held that Paul’s interpretation relies on select portions of narrow term definitions in the dictionary, and the generally accepted definitions do not support his position. It also held that his interpretation does not give effect to all of the provisions in the Easement Agreement. While Paul interpreted the word “the” in “the right of way and easement” as referring to a singular physical easement, the court noted that “the” simply refers to the right being granted if the entire Easement Agreement is considered.
The significance of the case is the holding that a multiple pipeline blanket easement may permit more than one easement path sans express language of such permission. The Texas Supreme Court in Dwyer held that under a blanket easement the location and size may become fixed once the pipeline is installed. However, in Dwyer, the easement agreement authorized the construction of one pipeline. An agreement authorizing a single pipeline is different from an agreement authorizing multiple pipelines because unless the agreement expressly fixes the location, an easement agreement granting the right to construct multiple pipelines will grant the equivalent of “multiple floating easements.”