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Rolla v. Tank

Supreme Court of North Dakota

October 2, 2013

Debbora Rolla, Personal Representative of the Estate of George Tank, deceased, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Greggory G. Tank and all other persons unknown claiming any estate or interest in, or lien or encumbrance upon, the property described in the Complaint, Defendants Greggory G. Tank Appellant

Appeal from the District Court of McKenzie County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable Joshua B. Rustad, Judge.

Bryan L. Van Grinsven, for plaintiff and appellee.

H. Malcolm Pippin (argued) and Heather M. Sporrer (on brief), for defendant and appellant.

OPINION

VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

[¶ 1] Greggory Tank appealed from a judgment quieting title to certain McKenzie County oil, gas and mineral interests in Debbora Rolla, the personal representative of the estate of George Tank. Because the district court did not err in ruling the challenged quitclaim deeds reserved mineral interests in George Tank and reserved in him a life estate in the surface only, we affirm.

I

[¶ 2] George Tank, the father of Rolla, Greggory Tank and four other surviving children, owned property in McKenzie County which he farmed, ranched and used for commercial purposes. Greggory Tank stayed on the farm and worked with his parents. After his wife died, George Tank executed two quitclaim deeds in December 2007 and March 2008 conveying his interest in part of his property to Greggory Tank. The only difference between the two deeds is the March 2008 deed corrected the description of the property conveyed. Both deeds, captioned "(Life Estate Reserved), " contained the following reservation clauses:

EXCEPTING and RESERVING to the Grantor, his successors and assigns, all oil, gas and other minerals now owned by Grantor, including coal, in and under the above-described land, or any part thereof, together with the right of ingress and egress and the use of so much of the surface of the land as is reasonably necessary for the purposes of exploring for, mining, drilling, excavating, operating, developing, storing, handling, transporting and marketing such minerals. Sand, gravel and clay shall be considered part of the surface.
FURTHER EXCEPTING and RESERVING to the Grantor, the full use, control, income and possession of the described property, including without limitation, the right to lease and receive the bonuses, rentals and royalties therefrom, without liability for depletion or waste, for and during Grantor's natural life.

[¶ 3] After George Tank died in June 2008, ConocoPhillips, who apparently operates a well on the premises, ceased making production payments on the mineral estate covered by the quitclaim deeds because its title attorneys determined Greggory Tank owned the minerals. Rolla, as personal representative of the estate, brought this quiet title action to determine who owned the mineral interests in the subject property. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. Rolla argued the deeds conveyed the surface interest in the property to Greggory Tank subject to a life estate in George Tank and reserved to George Tank the entire mineral interests rather than a life estate in the minerals. Greggory Tank argued the deeds reserved to George Tank a life estate in both the mineral interests and the surface interests. The district court determined the deeds were ambiguous, denied the motions, and ordered the parties to proceed to trial. Following a bench trial, in which several persons testified, the court quieted title to the property in Rolla, reasoning:

The Court finds that the testimony presented shows that George's intent was consistent with Plaintiff's position, that being that George intended to reserve a life estate in the surface and wanted to reserve the mineral rights on lands with no current well to the children other than Defendant, and intended that Defendant would receive the surface and mineral rights on lands with a current well, and surface on lands with no well.

The court also resolved other issues between the parties which are not challenged on appeal.

II

[ΒΆ 4] Greggory Tank argues the district court erred in ruling George Tank reserved the mineral interests and only conveyed to him a remainderman ...


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