Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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Joan Hallin, John Hallin and Susan Bradford (collectively Hallin and Bradford) appeal from a judgment in favor of Inland Oil & Gas Corporation. In 2007, Hallin and Bradford each leased to Inland mineral interests they owned in 160 acres of land in Mountrail County. The leases provided Hallin and Bradford leased to Inland "all that certain tract of land situated in Mountrail County." Hallin and Bradford, along with members of their extended family, owned a fraction of the minerals in the entire 160 acres. On the basis of irregularities in the chain of title, it was unclear whether Hallin and Bradford collectively owned sixty net mineral acres or eighty net mineral acres when the parties executed the leases. Hallin and Bradford believed they owned sixty net mineral acres and their relatives owned sixty acres. When Hallin and Bradford executed the leases, they also received payment drafts for a rental bonus showing they each leased thirty acres to Inland. The leases provide royalty compensation based upon the number of net mineral acres. The North Dakota Supreme Court decided Hallin and Bradford collectively owned eighty net mineral acres and their relatives owned forty net mineral acres. Inland and Hallin and Bradford disagreed whether the leases covered all of Hallin and Bradford's mineral interests. Hallin and Bradford sued Inland, arguing they leased sixty acres and the remaining twenty acres were not leased. Inland argued Hallin and Bradford leased eighty acres because the leases cover all of their mineral interests. The district court granted summary judgment to Inland, concluding the leases were unambiguous and that "as a matter of law, the Hallins and Bradford leased to Inland whatever interest they had in the subject property at the time the leases were executed." Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hallin v. Inland Oil & Gas Corporation" on Justia Law

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A person dealing with a personal representative does not receive the protections of N.D.C.C. 30.1-18-14 unless the person obtains the personal representative's letters of appointment or any other court order giving the personal representative authority to act in this state. Dudley Stuber, trustee of the D.J. Stuber Land and Royalty Trust, and Rocky Svihl, trustee of the RGKH Mineral & Royalty Trust (collectively "Plaintiffs") appealed a judgment deciding ownership of certain mineral interests in favor of the estates of Victoria Davis and Helen Jaumotte. Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment, arguing there were no genuine issues of material fact and they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. They claimed Jay Jaumotte, as personal representative of the estates, was authorized to sell property in North Dakota as a foreign personal representative, and Northland Royalty Corp. (to whom Jay Jaumotte first conveyed the interests) was a good-faith purchaser and was entitled to statutory protections under N.D.C.C. 30.1-18-14, and the statute of limitations had expired, precluding the heirs' claims. The heirs also moved for summary judgment. The heirs argued the deeds transferring the minerals to Northland were void because Jay Jaumotte lacked any authority to act on behalf of the Davis or Helen Jaumotte estates when dealing with North Dakota property, the Plaintiffs were not good-faith purchasers, and there were genuine issues of material fact about whether Northland was a good-faith purchaser. EOG Resources intervened and responded to the motions, arguing the Plaintiffs had no interest in the mineral estate, the Plaintiffs' predecessor-in-interest had notice of the heirs' potential interests in the property and failed to investigate, and the Plaintiffs and Northland were not good-faith purchasers. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision quieting title, but reversed its decision awarding damages to the Victoria Davis and Helen Jaumotte heirs. View "Stuber v. Engel" on Justia Law

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A party with a royalty interest in a property, who has not signed a division order with an oil company, may recover underpayments from the oil company. Newfield Production Company ("Newfield") operates four oil and gas wells on the property at issue here. The Trustees of the George S. Maragos Residuary Trust ("the Trust") asserted they owned a 1/8 of 1% royalty interest in the property. While operating the wells, Newfield relied upon a division order-title opinion ("division order") to allocate the royalty interest for the property. The Trust argued it acquired its interest in the royalties through the following process: H. H. Hester possessed a royalty interest in the property and conveyed to George S. Maragos a 1/8% royalty interest in December 1937. George S. Maragos retained his interest until his death when the administrators of his estate assigned the royalty interest to the Trust in January 1985. The Trust sued Newfield for an accounting and all unpaid revenue from the 1/8% royalty interest in the property. The Trust moved for summary judgment. Newfield filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, arguing it was not a proper party defendant because it did not have a competing interest in the 1/8% royalty interest. The district court granted Newfield's cross-motion for summary judgment, holding the Trust claim was really a quiet title claim, Newfield was not a proper party defendant, the proper parties are the other competing royalty interest owners, and the Trust was not entitled to attorney's fees and interest under N.D.C.C. 47-16-39.1. The Trust appealed the district court's summary judgment in favor of Newfield, determining Newfield was not a proper party defendant. Because Newfield failed to establish they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed and remanded. View "Maragos v. Newfield Production Company" on Justia Law

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Absent a prior conveyance of pore space to a third party, the owner of a surface estate owns the pore space beneath the surface. A surface owner may recover damages from a mineral developer for the developer's use of pore space for saltwater disposal. Plaintiffs Randall Mosser, Douglas Mosser, Marilyn Koon, and Jayne Harkin owned a surface estate in a quarter section of land in Billings County. When the plaintiffs acquired their surface estate, it was subject to a 1977 oil and gas lease granted by the plaintiffs' predecessors-in-interest, who had owned both the surface and mineral estate in several tracts of land included in the lease. In 2003, the Industrial Commission approved a plan for unitization of several tracts of land in Billings County, including the plaintiffs' surface estate. Denbury Onshore, LLC operated a well located on the plaintiffs' surface estate, and used the well for saltwater disposal since September 2011. Plaintiffs sued Denbury for saltwater disposal into their pore space, alleging claims for nuisance, for trespass and for damages under the Oil and Gas Production Damage Compensation Act in N.D.C.C. ch. 38-11.1. Plaintiffs moved for partial summary judgment on liability, claiming Denbury's liability was clear and the only issue for trial was the amount of their damages. Denbury moved for summary judgment dismissal of the plaintiffs' action, contending it had the right to dispose of saltwater into the plaintiffs' pore space without providing them compensation. A federal magistrate judge denied the parties' motions, but ruled the plaintiffs owned the pore space beneath their surface estate and Denbury could be liable for saltwater disposal into their pore space under N.D.C.C. ch. 38-11.1. Denbury filed a second motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of the plaintiffs' statutory claim for damages on the ground they failed to proffer any evidence to establish that they were currently using the pore space beneath their surface estate, that they had any concrete plans to do so in the near future, or that their property had diminished in value. The federal magistrate judge deferred ruling on that motion and certified several questions of North Dakota law to the North Dakota Supreme Court involving the plaintiffs' right to recover compensation for Denbury's disposal of saltwater into the pore space beneath the plaintiffs' surface estate under N.D.C.C. ch. 38-11.1. View "Mosser v. Denbury Resources, Inc." on Justia Law

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Drilling operations commence when: (1) work is done preparatory to drilling; (2) the driller has the capability to do the actual drilling; and (3) there is a good faith intent to complete the well. It is not necessary that the drill bit actually penetrate the ground. GADECO, LLC, appealed a judgment and orders declaring its oil and gas lease with Laurie Abell was terminated, dismissing its counterclaim against Abell, and awarding Abell her costs and attorney fees. GADECO and Abell began negotiating a surface use and damage agreement in mid-November 2011. GADECO sent Abell a proposed agreement on December 26, 2011, and later attempted to contact Abell about the agreement, but she refused to execute it. GADECO applied for a well permit in early 2012, shortly before the primary term of the lease was set to expire, and the permit was approved on January 23, 2012. Two days later, Abell leased the same mineral interests to Kodiak Oil & Gas. Unable to secure a surface use and damage agreement from Abell, GADECO relocated the well off the subject property but within the spacing unit, and a producing oil and gas well was completed in 2013. After giving notice of termination, Abell brought this lawsuit seeking a determination that GADECO's lease had terminated and an award of costs and attorney fees. GAEDCO counterclaimed for breach of contract and damages. The North Dakota Supreme Court found that where the failure to produce oil or gas from leased land is due to the fault of the lessor, the lease is not terminated at the end of the primary term, since the lessor is not entitled to set up termination of the lease where she has prevented the lessee from conducting operations which might bring about an extension of the lease. The Court reversed and remanded, finding genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Abell v. GADECO, LLC" on Justia Law

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Statoil Oil & Gas LP appealed judgments dismissing without prejudice its actions against numerous defendants, seeking a determination of the proper distribution of oil and gas revenues from Williams and McKenzie County wells on land adjacent to the Missouri River and under Lake Sakakawea. It was undisputed that the United States claimed an interest in the property and, although the United States waived sovereign immunity regarding real property title disputes, those actions against the United States had to be brought and resolved in a federal court. The parties therefore agreed that joinder of the United States was not feasible for purposes of N.D.R.Civ.P. 19(a). The provisions of N.D.R.Civ.P. 19(b) come into play:"(b) When Joinder Is Not Feasible. If a person who is required to be joined if feasible cannot be joined, the court must determine whether, in equity and good conscience, the action should proceed among the existing parties or should be dismissed. Considering N.D.R.Civ.P. 19(b)(1), the district court noted the United States would be prejudiced to some extent by its absence in the proceedings because, although it would not be bound by a state court judgment, a judgment in favor of other mineral owners would cloud its record title to the disputed property. This could force the United States to institute a proceeding to protect its interests in the property, resulting in a waste of judicial and party resources. The trial court concluded there was a risk of substantial prejudice to the United States (including both its mineral interests and its sovereignty) if this matter proceeded in its absence, and therefore the first factor favors dismissal. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the actions because Statoil failed to join the United States as an indispensable party. View "Statoil Oil & Gas, LP v. Abaco Energy, LLC" on Justia Law

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Charles W.H. Monson, LeeAnn Tarter, and KayCee Williams ("the Monsons") appealed a district court judgment reforming a deed executed in 1980 and quieting title in favor of Steve Goodall, Robert Goodall, Anne Stout, Joanne Quale, and Darrel Quale ("the Goodalls"). This case involved the sale of mineral rights to four tracts of land executed in one deed. In 1980, George and Dorothy Hoffman executed a deed transferring an undivided 508.26/876.26 mineral interest to Francis and Alice Goodall. Subsequent to the execution of these deeds, the Hoffmans retained a total of 508.26 mineral acres out of 876.26 total acres in the subject property. This fractional interest language in the 1980 deed is at the center of this dispute. Dorothy Hoffman died in 1985. George Hoffman died intestate in 1998. The Monsons acquired by intestate succession any mineral interests the Hoffmans retained beneath the subject property. Sometime after George Hoffman's death, members of the Monson family entered into oil and gas lease agreements with Enerplus Resources and Northern Oil and Gas, Inc. In 2013, the Goodall's filed a complaint requesting the district court quiet title in their favor. The Monsons moved for summary judgment, arguing the 1980 deed was unambiguous, the Hoffmans only transferred a fractional interest to the Goodalls, and the Monsons inherited their interests from what the Hoffmans retained in the transaction. The Goodalls claimed the deed did not reflect the parties' intentions, which was to transfer all of the Hoffmans' 508.26 mineral acres to Francis and Alice Goodall. After a hearing, the district court denied the Monsons' motion for summary judgment. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err in admitting extrinsic evidence to support the Goodalls' argument that a mutual mistake had been made, and the district court's findings supporting reformation of the deed were not clearly erroneous. View "Goodall v. Monson" on Justia Law

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Jennifer Ogren, Lisa Marie Ogren Castle and Eric Marcus Ogren appeal from a summary judgment in favor of Marlene Sandaker, Karen Walden and Marlys Rulon. In 1958 Mike and Lorene Albert conveyed a 1/8th royalty interest to each of Mike Albert's seven siblings. Mike and Lorene Albert retained the mineral interest and a 1/8th royalty interest. Each of Mike Albert's siblings owned a 1/8th royalty interest. In 2009 Sandaker, Walden and Rulon leased the property to an oil company for a 3/16th royalty interest. In 2011 an attorney prepared a drilling title opinion concluding the 1958 assignment of royalty conveyed a fractional royalty to Mike Albert's seven siblings. A second title opinion in 2012 concluded the 1958 assignment of royalty conveyed a fraction of royalty to Mike Albert's seven siblings. In 2013 the Ogrens commenced an action to quiet title to the disputed royalty interests. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment to resolve the interpretation of the 1958 assignment. The district court entered an order and judgment in favor of Sandaker, Walden and Rulon, determining as a matter of law the 1958 assignment conveyed a fraction of royalty. The Ogrens appealed, arguing the district court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of Sandaker, Walden and Rulon because the 1958 assignment of royalty granted a fractional royalty and not a fraction of royalty. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ogren v. Sandaker" on Justia Law

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Charles Robinson, Paul Robinson, and William Robinson appealed an amended judgment granting summary judgment in favor of THR Minerals, LLC, and deciding ownership of mineral and royalty interests in certain property. The Supreme Court concluded the assignment of royalty at issue was unambiguous, and the district court did not err as a matter of law in construing the assignment to decide the ownership of the subject mineral and royalty interests between the parties. View "THR Minerals, LLC. v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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Casey Voigt appealed a judgment affirming the Public Service Commission's ("Commission") order that affirmed its conditional approval of a surface coal mining permit for Coyote Creek Mining Company, L.L.C. ("Company"). The Supreme Court concluded the Commission's order complied with applicable law requiring identification and protection of "alluvial valley floors" and sufficiently addressed Voigt's evidence. Furthermore, the Court concluded the Commission's conclusions of law regarding the lack of "alluvial valley floors" within or adjacent to the permit area was supported by the findings of fact and that reasonable minds could have determined the Commission's findings of fact were proved by the weight of the evidence from the entire record. View "Voigt v. N.D. Public Service Commission" on Justia Law