Oil well lien: Can an owner be a contractor?

Drillers asserted a subcontractors’ lien on Debtors’ oil well.  Endeavor Energy Resources, L.P. v. Heritage Consolidated, L.L.C., No. 13-10969 (reviised Sept. 16, 2014). Debtors argued that when the general contractor acquired a 1% ownership interest in the lease, that interest related back to the time before Drillers began work, and voided any lien because a party cannot be both a contractor and an owner.

The Fifth Circuit rejected that argument and reversed the lower courts, finding that the Texas Supreme Court intended the relation-back doctrine in this context to expand the interest to which a valid lien can attach (applying Diversified Mortgage Investors v. Lloyd D. Blaylock General Contractor, Inc., 578 S.W.2d 794 (Tex. 1978)).  Noting that this interest was not acquired until after the Drillers had done their work, the Court observed that even an earlier acquisition would reach the same result: “If [GC] gained a 1% ownership interest in the lease at the time that Drillers performed their work, then Drillers may have gained an additional claim for contractors’ liens against [GC].  It would not, however, prevent Drillers from asserting separate subcontractors’ liens against [Debtors].”

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