Updated for a math infraction, thanks to several astute readers.

In Glassell Producing Company v. Naquin, the question was:

Did a conveyance among siblings create a real right in property, or was it an appendage of a lease that ceased to burden the property once that lease was terminated? Continue Reading An “Appendage” Determines a Louisiana Royalty Dispute

Co-author Chance Decker

How many times must an operator suffer for a mistake in a unit declaration? Samson Exploration LLC v. T. S. Reed Properties Inc. makes it twice. (See Hooks v. Samson Lone Star for the first round). The Texas Supreme Court ruled that a lessee could not avoid a contractual obligation to pay royalties from a zone shared by two pooled units. Continue Reading Unit Operator Pays For a Problem of its Own Making

Conoco Phillips Company v. Ramirez et al is a helpful reminder when preparing a document transferring title:

  • “Family vernacular” is a great way to communicate in wedding toasts and funeral eulogies, not so much in land conveyances.
  • Absent an express reservation, a conveyance of land includes both the surface and the underlying minerals.
  • When there is a claim of ambiguity, extrinsic evidence may not be used to create doubt as to the plain meaning of the words.

Continue Reading Informal Description Dooms Oil and Gas Leases

Co-author Chance Decker

You’ve seen the headlines.  The portrait is complete; the verdict is in; the clock has run down to zero. The devastation of Harvey is “unprecedented” and it’s all because of climate change. That’s not necessarily so, thanks to Powerline and Dr. Roy Spencer.  Read it and reach your own conclusion.

And now, on to the the law

Apache Deepwater, LLC v. Double Eagle Development, LLC asked whether a retained acreage clause provided for “rolling terminations” after the primary term or “snapshot termination”. As you might expect, the result depended on the language of the lease. Continue Reading Harvey and Climate Change, and Consideration of a Retained Acreage Clause

Co-author Chance Decker

“The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules”. The Joker to Batman, The Dark Knight

Subject-to, reservations-from, and exceptions-to problems have been lurking in the shadows of Texas jurisprudence for a while now, and the courts have been all over the map in recent holdings (Title nerd and proud of it? Compare this example with this one.)

In Wenske v. Ealy, the Supreme Court channeled our superhero’s painted friend, essentially jettisoning the old rules and confirming the new rule in deed construction cases: There are no “rules”.  Continue Reading Does Texas Have a New “Rule” in Conveyancing?

Co-author Chance Decker

We recently discussed Freeman v. Harleton. The opinion shows the transaction as a bunco job. Here’s more:

  • Bufkin and Wayne Freeman have done business together since the 1980s. They had a co-development agreement with Harleton.
  • Long-standing agreements among the three of them made it clear that Harleton owned 50 percent of the Geisler Unit.
  • Chesapeake never talked to the Freeman defendants, who were not parties to the letter agreement for the sale.
  • Chesapeake didn’t contract non-ops because Chesapeake believed the letter agreement prevented them from doing so.
  • Bufkin would bring non-ops to each closing, and they would receive offers to sell on the same terms as Buffco.
  • Wayne Freeman, who attended his closing, knew Harleton’s ownership interest in the unit but did not raise the issue because, ”It did not occur to him to do so.” He said “[I]t was Chesapeake’s obligation to figure out who owned what” in the unit.
  • As a non-op and non-signatory Freeman never made representations or warranties.
  • To Chesapeake it became obvious that Bufkin had known when he closed that the ownership in the Geisler Unit was different than what he said it was.
  • The due-diligence landman’s work was entirely from Buffco/Twin files. He didn’t check the county records because he was told by Bufkin and team that his title determination was correct.
  • The landman came to believe that Buffco removed materials from files that would have revealed Harleton’s interest in the deep rights.
  • See the opinion for federal Judge Gilstrap’s view of the defendants’ activities. it was adopted by the state court trial judge.

Continue Reading An Oil Patch Morality Play – Part 2

shysterAccording to Mr. Bumble, the law is an ass. I disagree (Know a lawyer who’s an ass? That’s another conversation). In Davis v. Mueller the law was not an ass, per se, but as applied by the Texas Supreme Court it showed little mercy.

A refresher on conveyances

  • According to the Statute of Frauds, a writing conveying real property must furnish within itself, or by reference to some other existing writing, the means or data by which the land to be conveyed may be identified with reasonable certainty.
  • A Mother Hubbard clause is a catchall in a deed to capture small, overlooked, or incorrectly described interests.
  • A Mother Hubbard clause is not effective to convey a significant property interest not adequately described in the deed.
  • In Texas a general conveyance of all of a grantor’s property in a geographic area is given effect.

Continue Reading Texas Mineral Deeds Survive the Statute of Frauds

Yellow KEEP OUT Barrier TapeCo-author Chance Decker

We know that in Texas the mineral owner has the right to explore for and produce the minerals. What does that leave for the surface owner? In Lightning Oil Company v. Anadarko E&P Onshore, LLC the Texas Supreme Court tells us he owns the right to possess the specific place or space where the minerals are located. Absent pooling or some other contractual arrangement, with that comes the right to grant (for a price) or deny an off-lease operator the right to drill through the mineral estate to reach minerals under an adjacent tract. Continue Reading Texas Subsurface Trespass Law Clarified

railroadCo-author Chance Decker

BNSF v. Chevron Midcontinent LP et al. asked whether a 1903 deed granted BNSF’s predecessor a strip of land in fee simple absolute or only an easement. The result: BNSF holds only an easement. There’s more to the case than an analysis of particular language in one sui generis contract. What else did we learn?

The big picture

  • Is your assignment to determine the intent of the parties in a document? Consider it as a whole; don’t cherry pick phrases and read them in isolation. I doesn’t matter whether you are issuing checks based on ownership or convincing the court of your righteousness.
  • Beware of ancient title documents, in particular a “Right of Way Deed”. Railroads in the early part of the last century had a propensity to present documents that looked like easements but were really deeds in fee simple. Here, 115 years later, if that was the intent it didn’t work.
  • “Beware” translates to “read the document carefully and thoroughly”. Don’t skim the granting clause and call it a day.
  • In a face-off between the granting and habendum clauses, the granting clause prevails. But, as you will see, it’s not that simple.

Dueling deed language

The consideration: “… benefits which will accrue… by reason of the construction of a line of railroad over the land…”

The granting language: “… a right of way, that certain strip of land hereinafter described, …”. The deed then described a line traced by surveyors.

The habendum clause: “To have and to hold the said premises, together with all appurtenances thereto belonging, in fee simple, unto the said … its successors and assigns forever.”

BNSF’s losing arguments (contending the deed conveyed fee simple absolute)

  • “Right-of-way” is not a legal term of art with a set definitive meaning, but rather may be used in two senses: a right of passage, and also a strip of land which railroad take up one upon which to construct a roadbed. The court agreed, but that didn’t carry the day.
  • “For a right-of-way” is a precatory nonrestrictive clause that states a purpose but does not limit the nature of the estate being conveyed. (Don’t even try to say you already know what “precatory” is.)
  • The habendum clause refers to “fee simple”. That alone should  answer the question. But the granting clause controls, and the court wasn’t ready to recognize a Texas doctrine of “an easement in fee simple” as do some other states.

The court – it’s an easement

The granting clause straddled the line between two different types of deeds, making it ambiguous. The court then had to examine the entire deed and harmonize its conflicting provisions. The court followed the basic rule: Assume the parties intended every clause to have effect so that no clause is rendered meaningless. But the focus remained on the granting clause, which controls the disposition.

Chevron offered the only reasonable reading of the deed. The deed as a whole evinces a clear intent to convey only a surface easement. The court noted these factors:

  • The opening recitals show that the grantor would receive benefits if a railroad passed over the land.
  • “Right-of-way” appears in the granting clause directly in front of “that strip of land”. The placement of the statement of purpose means something.
  • The line shaped by the surveyors went “over to and across” various sections.
  • There was a separate grant of the right to use wood, stone and other resources. If the deed conveyed the land in fee simple the right to take and use the natural resources would have passed automatically.
  • The granting clause defines which bundle of rights was transferred; the habendum clause tells the recipients how long and under what conditions they can have and hold those rights.
  • The habendum clause allows the grantee to have and hold the “premises”, which suggests only an easement.

What is the effect of the reference to “fee simple” in the habendum clause? Fee simple is a “durational or conditional qualifier, rather than the expression of an estate’s size”. The operative question of what BNSF actually owns is answered by the granting clause and the “gloss put on that clause by the rest of the deed.”

What is it about trains and prison in country songs?  Know what I mean?