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THR Minerals, LLC v. Robinson

Supreme Court of North Dakota

April 3, 2017

THR Minerals, LLC, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Stephen D. Robinson, as Trustee of the Grace D. Robinson Irrevocable Trust, Mary Lou Stewart, Mark Allen Metzger, Charles A. Robinson, Paul A. Robinson, William A. Robinson, Barbara B. Danner, Ellen W. Brewster, and L & M Minerals, LLC, Defendants Charles A. Robinson, Paul A. Robinson, and William A. Robinson, Appellants

         Appeal from the District Court of Williams County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable David W. Nelson, Judge. AFFIRMED.

          Jordon J. Evert, for plaintiff and appellee.

          Harry M. Pippin, for appellants.

          OPINION

          McEVERS, JUSTICE.

         [¶ 1] Charles Robinson, Paul Robinson, and William Robinson appeal from an amended judgment, granting summary judgment in favor of THR Minerals, LLC, and deciding ownership of mineral and royalty interests in certain property. We conclude the assignment of royalty at issue is unambiguous, and the district court did not err as a matter of law in construing the assignment to decide the ownership of the subject mineral and royalty interests between the parties. We affirm.

         I

         [¶ 2] In August 2014 THR filed an amended complaint to quiet title to mineral and mineral royalty ownership in specific property located in Williams County. Before suit was commenced, the various parties stipulated to the ownership of the property as sought in THR's complaint, except for defendants Charles Robinson, Paul Robinson, and William Robinson ("Robinsons"). In September 2014 the Robinsons answered THR's complaint.

         [¶ 3] The dispute in this case involves the interpretation of a 1942 "Assignment of Royalty, " from Ivan and Oleta Metzger, husband and wife, to assignee T.H. Richardson. It is undisputed that at the time of the conveyance, the Metzgers owned a one-third interest in the property described in the assignment. Based on their respective successor interests and interpretations of the assignment, THR asserts the Metzgers conveyed to Richardson a 6.25 percent royalty interest in the entire property, while the Robinsons contend the Metzgers created a 6.25 percent royalty burden on only the one-third interest they actually owned.

         [¶ 4] THR moved the district court for summary judgment, and the Robinsons filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. In January 2015 the district court held a hearing on the parties' motions. In March 2015 the court granted THR partial summary judgment based on its interpretation of the 1942 assignment, which the court concluded was unambiguous. The court held that "to be made whole, the heirs of T. H. Richardson are entitled to 18.75% [ i.e., three times 6.25 percent] of the interest owned by Oleta and Ivan Metzger as a result of the February 17, 1942 conveyance." The court, however, did not grant full summary judgment because the record did "not have the information to set out current ownership" and was "not sufficient to establish what The Metzger[s'] owned prior to the 1942 deed, with sufficient proof to warrant a Quiet Title judgment."

         [¶ 5] In July 2015 THR again moved the district court for summary judgment, submitting additional documents to establish chain of title to the property. The Robinsons again opposed THR's motion, asserting summary judgment was inappropriate because "there absolutely exists a genuine dispute regarding the existence of a material fact, " in that "there is still a dispute as to the interpretation of the February 17, 1942 Assignment of Royalty from Oleta and Ivan Metzger to T.H. Richardson." In September 2015 the district court held a hearing on THR's second summary judgment motion. In December 2015 the court entered amended findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order granting judgment in THR's favor. An amended judgment was entered from which the Robinsons appeal.

         II

         [¶ 6] The Robinsons argue the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of THR. Our standard of review for a district court's grant of summary judgment is well established:

Summary judgment is a procedural device for the prompt resolution of a controversy on the merits without a trial if there are no genuine issues of material fact or inferences that can reasonably be drawn from undisputed facts, or if the only issues to be resolved are questions of law. A party moving for summary judgment has the burden of showing there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In determining whether summary judgment was appropriately granted, we must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and that party will be given the benefit of all favorable inferences which can reasonably be drawn from the record. On appeal, this Court decides whether the information available to the district court precluded the existence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitled the moving party to judgment as a matter of law. Whether the district court properly granted summary judgment is a question of law which we review de novo on the entire record.

Markgraf v. Welker, 2015 ND 303, ¶ 10, 873 N.W.2d 26 (quoting Hamilton v. Woll, 2012 ND 238, ¶ 9, 823 N.W.2d 754). "Summary judgment is inappropriate if neither party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law or if reasonable differences of opinion exist as to the inferences to be drawn from the undisputed facts." Markgraf, at ¶ 10 (quoting Northern ...


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