Co-author Brooke Sizer
Halloween is approaching, so let’s talk poltergeists – troublesome spirits that haunt a specific location. Where do they come from? In Quality Environmental Processes, Inc. v I.P. Petroleum Company, Inc., it was from a faulty property description that lay dormant for 30 years before beginning its vexations.
The Demon is Spawned
A 1966 mineral deed conveyed rights in the oil and gas under certain tracts outlined in blue on Tobin maps. Another exhibit described known producing sands within the tracts by depth and geographical location. Accurate surveys of the areas outlined in blue would be made and, when approved by the parties, would become part of the agreement. The surveys were never obtained and the deed was never supplemented.
By a 1992 cash sale the St. Martins purchased a portion of the property. They later conveyed a 10% mineral interest to Quality.
The Demon Haunts
In 1994, I.P. Petroleum drilled and produced a well and began paying royalties to the St. Martins. I.P. then ceased those payments and began paying the current owners of the 1966 mineral servitude. The St. Martins and Quality sued. The question: Did the 1966 mineral deed create a mineral servitude, or did the 1992 cash sale grant the purchasers the surface and the minerals?
The trial court held that the 1966 mineral deed did not create a valid mineral servitude because it did not contain an accurate survey or map, nor any measurements, dimensions, bearings, angles, or distances which would accurately describe the mineral interests listed and conveyed. Thus, a third party would not be on notice of a conveyance.
The Spookiest Part
Unpaid royalties were $817,000. Judgment was rendered for plaintiffs against IP for $6.725 million for unpaid royalties, treble damages for violation of the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act, double royalties due for violation of the Mineral Code, interest, and attorney’s fees. Judgment against IP’s lawyers was for $4.5 million. Talk about a long drive home from the courthouse.
The Demon is Exorcized
The appeals court reversed. The 1992 cash sale expressly stated that no mineral rights were conveyed. The record was sufficient to give purchasers notice that they did not obtain ownership of any mineral rights by virtue of the 1992 cash sale. Even without a complete written description of the property the 1966 deed was susceptible of conveying the servitude, because the location could be ascertained with certainty with the aid of extrinsic evidence.
The Supreme Court affirmed. The 1966 deed was sufficiently specific to identify the property to be conveyed and, thus to create a valid mineral servitude and to place third parties on notice of its existence. The general rule is that the description in a deed must be such that the property intended to be conveyed can be located and identified. The description must fully appeae within the four corners of the instrument itself, or the deed should refer to some map, plat, or deed as a part of the description. However, the description need not be with such particularity as to make extrinsic evidence unnecessary.
Document drafters can control the demons that could vex future owners (the ones in your personal life are your own business). Finish what you started. The parties should have followed through on their agreement to supplement the descriptions.
Precisely what description is sufficient to place third parties on notice must be made on a case by case basis. The good news for parties wanting to enforce a conveyance is that Louisiana courts tend to construe property descriptions so as to sustain, rather than defeat, a conveyance.
Caveat: The court reiterated that the liberal approach won’t work with misleading descriptions, but only faulty or inaccurate ones.
Today’s musical interlude.