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No. 13-0552
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SHELL OIL COMPANY AND SHELL INTERNATIONAL, E&P, INC. v. ROBERT WRITT

Oral argument was held on November 6, 2014. The Court issued an opinion resolving the case on May 15, 2015. File Closed

In the news...

Tracking 1 article about this case.

May 15, 2015

Internal investigations while a company is itself under investigation are given absolute privilege against defamation [May 15, 2015]

from SCOTXblog

The Court has issued opinions:

Opinion

May 15, 2015

Johnson
Hecht
Green
Willett
Guzman
Lehrmann
Boyd
Devine
Brown

Justice Johnson delivered the opinion of the Court.View Electronic Briefs | Oral Argument | Video PDF

 

Court of Appeals

Appellate District:1st Court of Appeals
Outcome Below:Reverse & Remand
COA Docket No.:01-11-00201-CV
Opinion Author:Honorable Terry Jennings

Trial Court

Trial Court:189th District Court
County:Harris
Trial Judge:Honorable William R. Burke
Trial Docket:0965221

Entries on SCOTX Orders Lists

Docket Entries

Date Event Outcome  
  This case has been waiting for a possible rehearing motion.  
2015-06-25 Mandate issued  
2015-05-15 Court approved judgment sent to attorneys of record Issued
2015-05-15 Opinion issued   Court of Appeals' judgment reversed, trial court judgment reinstated
  This case was awaiting the Court's decision after oral argument between November 6, 2014 and May 15, 2015.  
2014-11-06 Oral argument  
2014-10-31 Amicus Curiae Brief received  
2014-10-03 Oral Argument Submission Form from Attorney received  
2014-10-01 Oral Argument Submission Form from Attorney received  
2014-09-25 Letter Filed  
2014-08-22 Petition for Review disposed Filing granted
2014-08-22 Petition for Review granted
2014-08-22 Case set for oral argument   Case set for oral argument
2014-08-13 Amicus Curiae Letter Received  
  This case was pending on merits briefs between June 17, 2014 and August 13, 2014.  
2014-06-17 Sealed document filed in case  
2014-06-17 Reply Brief (Petitioner)  
2014-06-02 Motion for Extension of Time disposed.   Filing granted
2014-05-29 Motion for Extension of Time to File Brief filed  
2014-05-20 Brief on the Merits (Respondent)  
2014-04-28 Motion for Extension of Time disposed.   Filing granted
2014-04-25 Motion for Extension of Time to File Brief filed  
2014-04-17 Sealed document filed in case  
2014-04-17 Brief on the Merits (Petitioner)  
2014-04-17 Electronic communication sent to Party  
  This case was pending on merits briefs between February 21, 2014 and April 17, 2014.  
2014-02-21 Case Record Filed  
2014-02-20 Motion for Extension of Time disposed.   Filing granted
2014-02-20 Motion for Extension of Time to File Brief filed  
2014-02-14 Brief on the Merits Requested  
2014-02-14 Record Requested in Petition for Review  
2014-01-23 Sealed document filed in case  
2013-12-19 MET to file reply disposed of   Filing granted
2013-12-19 Motion to Extend Time to File Reply filed  
2013-12-18 Response to Petition (Respondent)  
  This case was waiting for a decision about briefing or a possible grant between October 28, 2013 and December 18, 2013.  
2013-10-28 Motion for Extension of Time to File Response  
2013-10-28 Motion for Extension of Time to File Response disposed   Filing granted
2013-10-18 Supreme Court of Texas Requested Response  
2013-10-01 Amicus Curiae Letter Received  
2013-09-30 Pro hac vice motion disposed   Filing granted
2013-09-30 Pro hac vice motion disposed   Filing granted
2013-09-30 Pro hac vice motion filed  
2013-09-30 Pro hac vice motion filed  
2013-09-17 Case forwarded to Court
2013-09-16 Designation of Lead Counsel  
2013-09-12 Response Waiver filed  
2013-09-09 Petition for Review (Petitioner)  
  This case was waiting for the parties to file a formal petition between July 17, 2013 and September 9, 2013.  
2013-07-17 Motion for Extension of Time to File Petition for Review disposed   Filing granted
2013-07-17 Motion for Extension of Time to File Petition for Review filed  

Parties

Party Counsel Role
Shell Oil Company
Ms. Michelle Stratton
Ms. Macey Reasoner Stokes
Petitioner
Writt, Robert
Kenneth David Hughes
Mr. Robert B. Dubose
Respondent

Amici Curiae

Amicus Curiae Counsel
Civiletti, Benjamin R.
 
Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America
Mr. James C. Ho
 

Internal investigations while a company is itself under investigation are given absolute privilege against defamation

Shell conducted an internal investigation into some allegations of violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which pinned blame on the plaintiff here, among others. When sued for defamation, the company asserted that the statement was entitled to absolute privilege because it was made as part of a criminal proceeding.

The trial court agreed. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Shell had not sufficiently proven that this privilege applied. (( The privilege was presented by traditional summary judgment, so the defendant had to establish it by conclusive evidence. ))

The Texas Supreme Court held that this record did, conclusively, establish a privilege that defeated any defamation claim. The analysis focused on the circumstances under which the report was made. As the Court summarized it, "Shell met with the DOJ, agreed to perform an internal investigation and report the results to the DOJ, and then did so."

This case's holding may be narrower than it first appears. The Court was careful to say that it was adhering to, and applying, the legal framework from Hurlbut v. Gulf Atlantic Life Insurance Co., 749 S.W.2d 762 (Tex. 1987), where it held a company official's voluntary statement to law enforcement made prior to that company being investigated was not afforded this same privilege.

The Court distinguished Hurlbut because, here, Shell actually was a target of a law-enforcement investigation at the time it made this report. The Court also emphasized that, while the company official's statement in Hurlbut had been made voluntarily, Shell making a report to the DOJ was "practically speaking, compelled." The Court noted the realities of being prosecuted under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), under which the DOJ more harshly penalizes companies that do not cooperate. Because this internal-investigation report was provided to the DOJ in "serious contemplation of the possibility" of a prosecution, Shell was entitled to absolute privilege against defamation claims.

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