For the second time in less than a year, the First Court of Appeals has granted mandamus relief to Valero Refining, vacating a discovery order compelling the company to produce highly confidential business and financial information about its refinery operations in a property tax dispute with an appraisal district. The latest victory involved Valero’s Harris County refinery and the Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD). Previously, the same court granted mandamus relief for Valero’s Galveston County refinery operations in a case against the Galveston Central Appraisal District (GCAD).
In the Galveston County case, GCAD conceded the trade-secret status of the information at issue and contended that it needed the highly sensitive information in order to value Valero’s refinery property using the income method of appraisal. The court disagreed, holding that access to Valero‘s trade secrets was not essential to a fair adjudication because GCAD could employ two other appraisal methods (the cost and sales approaches), neither of which required access to any of Valero’s trade secrets.
In the Harris County case, HCAD contested the trade-secret status of the information, but the court of appeals ruled that Valero established that it was trade-secret protected. Appyling its earlier ruling in the GCAD case, the court further held that HCAD was not entitled to obtain Valero’s trade secrets because it was not essential to HCAD’s case.
Reagan Simpson argued the GCAD mandamus in the First Court, and Chris Ward and April Farris briefed the mandamus petition. Reagan Simpson, Chris Ward, and April Farris briefed the HCAD mandamus petition, which was decided without oral argument. Valero was co-represented by Mark Hutcheson, David Hugin, and Melissa Ramirez of Popp Hutcheson PLLC.