Co-author Rusty Tucker
Scribner v. Wineinger, et al. affirms that acquisition of a Texas oil and gas leasehold by limitations is not defeated if the adverse possessor’s acknowledgement of a claimant’s title comes too late.
Scribner’s father conveyed all of the interest to his son by the “2002 Assignment” but Scribner was unaware of the instrument until 2016. (Thanks, Dad!) In 2010, the executor of the estate of the now-deceased father assigned the interest to Latigo. Scribner, ignorant of the windfall, didn’t claim ownership. By a series of assignments between 2010 and October 2016, Parra et al (including Wineinger) obtained the interest. During that time Parra and its predecessors operated the lease, received the revenue, and paid the taxes.
In June 2016, Elder, an attorney representing Parra, discovered the 2002 Assignment, and to cure the potential cloud on title asked him to execute an assignment into the then-current owners. Later that month Park asked Scribner’s wife to have her husband sign the assignment.
In 2018 Scribner sued Parra for trespass to try title, trespass to real property and conversion. Parra asserted perfection of title by adverse possession under the five-year statute and counterclaimed for trespass to try title, declaratory judgment, and suit to quiet title.
Did acknowledgement of Scribner’s title defeat adverse possession? No. It was too late.
According to Parra, its predecessors acquired limitation title by adverse possession under the five-year statute. After tacking the periods of possession of their predecessors since April 2010, they had adversely possessed the lease by April 2015.
Scribner argued that Elder’s offer to buy the leasehold was an acknowledgement of title in Scribner that precluded limitations from running because the possession was not adverse to Scribner.
Adverse possession in Texas requires “an actual and visible appropriation of real property, commenced and continued under a claim of right that is inconsistent with and is hostile to the claim of another person[,]”.
An acknowledgement of title precludes limitations from running in favor of an adverse-possession claimant only if it occurs before limitations title is acquired. The so-called acknowledgments of Scribner’s title occurred in 2016, which was after April 2015, the date adverse possession was achieved by Parra’s predecessors. Because the limitations period had already run, the contacts didn’t preclude limitations title in Parra’s predecessors.
According to the court, a possessor’s claim of right does not satisfy the appropriation requirement of the five-year statute if the possessor doesn’t intend to appropriate the land, but instead intends to hold the land only until or unless the true owner appears. But Elder and Park contacting Scribner and his wife did not raise a fact question on whether the acknowledgments negated an intent to claim an interest adverse to Scribner.
Parra itself didn’t have possession of the interest until after the statutory period had run. The intent of Parra’s predecessors, who possessed the interest between April 2010 and April 2015, was relevant to whether the possession was adverse to Scribner. But they had already performed the acts necessary to establish adverse title before Parra knew about the break in the record title. The contacts of Elder and Parks had no bearing on the predecessors’ intent. The court found no evidence that Elder or Park had any affiliation with the predecesors.
The court decreed that Parra was the owner of the interest and declared the 2002 Assignment null and void.