Fort Worth-based Moncrief Oil International can press its trade secrets case against Russian natural gas giant Gazprom before a Texas judge, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday.In a short opinion, the state’s highest court found that Texas has jurisdiction to hear Moncrief’s complaint that Gazprom misused confidential trade secrets. That reversed a district court ruling and a subsequent appeals court ruling in 2011 that Texas lacked jurisdiction.The Supreme Court upheld the lower courts’ rulings, however, that Texas lacked jurisdiction to hear a separate claim that Gazprom interfered with Moncrief’s talks aimed at a joint venture with a California energy company. It also required Gazprom to pay court costs.“Dick Moncrief will finally have his day in court,” said Harriet O’Neill, an Austin attorney, referring to Richard Moncrief, head of Moncrief Oil International. “I am thrilled for a big win.” Gazprom had no comment.The case is the latest in years of legal battles, dating to a 1997 contract Moncrief and a Gazprom subsidiary signed to develop a big Russian gas field. Gazprom instead eventually signed a deal in 2005 with German chemical company BASF, prompting Moncrief to sue the first time.That case was dismissed in 2007 by U.S. District Judge Terry Means in Fort Worth, who ruled that Texas courts lacked jurisdiction in the dispute. His decision was affirmed by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to court documents.The latest suit grew out of negotiations starting in 2004, while Moncrief was trying to keep the Russian gas deal alive and proposed a new venture with Gazprom and Occidental Petroleum, according to court documents. Gazprom representatives traveled to Fort Worth and Houston to participate in talks, which included Moncrief’s analysis of the U.S. natural gas market and the prospect of building a liquified natural gas import facility near Corpus Christi.Gazprom eventually established its own natural gas operation in Houston in 2006, and Moncrief sued in 2008, saying Gazprom relied on confidential information gathered in the talks and pursued its own talks with Occidental. Gazprom again argued that Texas had no jurisdiction to hear the claims, and a Fort Worth state court and the state 2nd Court of Appeals both agreed.With the state Supreme Court’s ruling Friday, the charge of misusing trade secrets returns to the court of State District Judge Melody Wilkinson.
Jim Fuquay, 817-390-7552 Twitter: @jimfuquay