It ‘s tough to find an interesting picture of a title dispute, so here’s a musical interlude.  You never can tell how the court will construe a complicated property deed. 

Can the seller of land retain half of the minerals he owns in the property if he doesn’t actually reserve anything? Yes, he can, says Hunsaker v. Brown Distributing, Ltd.. This is another mineral title decision that could cost you lots of money if you don’t pay attention. 

Hunsaker owned 1,120 acres in La Salle County, Texas, which he conveyed to Brown by warranty deed. He conveyed either his entire one quarter mineral interest, or only one half of his one quarter. We can all agree there is a big difference.

The Deed

In the deed, Hunsaker “grants, sells, and conveys” land in Exhibit A. Exhibit A described the property by metes and bounds, and then said: “There is also included in this conveyance one-half (1/) of all oil, gas and other minerals . . . now owned by Grantor”. At the end of the deed, was the following: “This conveyance is made and accepted subject to all reservations, . . . now outstanding and of record”. The deed then listed reservations, including “An undivided one-quarter (1/4) interest in and to all of the oil, gas and other minerals and mineral rights reserved as set out in a particular deed”, and “One-half of all oil gas and other minerals in [another particular deed was identified and the specific language was quoted]”. (emphases is mine)

The Analysis

Brown argued that the deed conveyed Hunsaker’s entire one quarter mineral interest, because Hunsaker did not specifically reserve any minerals. Hunsaker responded that he did not reserve one half of his mineral interest, but emphasized that he was not required to reserve anything, because the deed conveyed only one half of his mineral interest.

The court construed the deed to convey one half of Hunsaker’s one quarter. Given the outstanding reservations at the time of the deed, it was clear that Hunsaker could not have owned half of the minerals because at least that portion had already reserved in prior deeds. Therefore he could not have conveyed one-half. The conveyance must have been one half of what the owned.

The Takeaway

There are two.  First, draft the conveyance and reservation language, and then read it again. Better yet, let your colleague read it and tell you if he or she comes up with the result you intended. 

Second, the court is unlikely to let you rely on one provision that gives the result you want if doing so will negate the effect of other, contrary provisions.  The court’s job when construing a deed is to “harmonize all parts” of the document and determine the parties’ intent from the entire document. If there is a construction that gives meaning to all of the seemingly conflicting provisions, the court is likely to apply it.