Black Stone Minerals Company, L.P. and The Hamill Foundation, Plaintiffs and Missouri River Royalty Corporation and Bauer Family LLP, Plaintiffs and Appellants
Kate Sarah Brokaw, Gordon Brokaw as Personal Representative of the Estate of Evelyn Brokaw, Gordon Brokaw as Trustee of the Testamentary Trust U/W of Evelyn G. Brokaw FBO Jacob Gordon Brokaw, Gordon Brokaw as Trustee of the Testamentary Trust U/W of Evelyn G. Brokaw FBO Emily Sue Brokaw, Kristen Jones, Steven Irgens, James Scott Brokaw, Ryan Kyle Brokaw, Brett Christopher Brokaw, Gordon D. Brokaw, Linda B. Irgens, Martha Brokaw, Lyman G. Brokaw, and all other persons unknown claiming any estate of interest in or lien or encumbrance upon, the real estate described in the complaint, Defendants and Appellees
from the District Court of Williams County, Northwest
Judicial District, the Honorable Joshua B. Rustad, Judge.
Jannelle R.S. Combs, for plaintiffs and appellants.
J. Weber (argued), Ariston E. Johnson (appeared), and Dennis
E. Johnson (on brief), for defendants and appellees.
1] Missouri River Royalty Corporation and Bauer Family LLP
appeal a district court's order granting summary judgment
to the defendants, most of whom are members of the Brokaw
family (collectively "Brokaw"). On cross motions
for summary judgment, the district court quieted title to
certain minerals in favor of Brokaw. We affirm in part,
reverse in part, and remand to correct the judgment.
2] In 1945, Lyman Brokaw acquired a full, undivided interest
in 160 acres through a Williams County tax deed. Later that
year, Lyman and his wife, Martha Brokaw, initiated a quiet
title action. The district court entered judgment by default
quieting title in Lyman and Martha Brokaw. The judgment
decreed: "the Plaintiffs, Lyman G. Brokaw, also known as
L. G. Brokaw, and Martha Brokaw, his wife, are the owners in
fee simple absolute of [the property]." Other than the
judgment recorded in Williams County, the parties agree no
other records of the quiet title action exist today.
3] In 1958, Lyman conveyed "an undivided full
interest" in the minerals in and under the property to
North American Royalties Inc. ("North American").
Later that year, North American conveyed an undivided
one-half interest in the minerals to Claud B. Hamill. Over
the next fifty years, North American transferred other
fractional interests to various persons and entities. By the
time of this action, the Plaintiffs alleged the ownership
proportions of the 160 mineral acres were as follows: The
Hamill Foundation - 50%; Black Stone Minerals Co. - 25%;
Missouri River Royalty Corp. - 18.75%; and Bauer Family LLP -
6.25%. Appellants Missouri River Royalty Corp. and Bauer
Family LLP will be referred to below as "North American
4] North American Successors claim ownership through North
American and initiated this action against Brokaw to quiet
title in the minerals. Brokaw moved for summary judgment,
arguing the 1945 judgment vested a one-half interest in
Martha and thus Lyman's conveyance to North American of a
"full interest" had transferred only the one-half
interest he owned and not the one-half interest vested in
Martha by the 1945 judgment. North American Successors also
moved for summary judgment, arguing first that the 1945
judgment did not vest one-half interest in Martha, and in the
alternative that the Marketable Record Title Act or the
doctrines of adverse possession and bona fide purchaser
supported their claims to title.
5] The district court granted Brokaw's motion for summary
judgment. Its order and judgment decrees that a one-half
interest in the minerals is owned by "North American
Royalties Inc. and Successors in interest (Plaintiffs)."
The district court did not make specific findings on the
mineral interests of Hamill, Black Stone, Missouri River, and
Bauer. The four Plaintiffs below moved the court to correct
the judgment, arguing that it vested title in a non-party,
North American Royalties, Inc. The district court denied the
motion. North American Successors appeal, arguing the
district court erred in its determinations regarding (1) the
1945 judgment vesting a one-half mineral interest in Martha;
(2) adverse possession; (3) the Marketable Record Title Act;
(4) bona fide purchaser; and (5) their motion to correct
6] North American Successors argue the district court erred
by concluding as a matter of law that the 1945 judgment
vested in Martha Brokaw one-half interest in the minerals.
Under N.D.R.Civ.P. 70(b), a North Dakota court judgment can
vest title to property in any party "and such judgment
has the effect of a conveyance." McKenzie County v.
Hodel, 467 N.W.2d 701, 704 - 05 (N.D. 1991). The
question before us is whether the district court properly
interpreted the 1945 judgment as divesting a one-half
interest from Lyman Brokaw and vesting it in Martha.
7] Interpretation of the 1945 judgment is a question of law
that we review de novo. Slorby v. Slorby, 2009 ND
11, ¶ 4, 760 N.W.2d 89. We start with the text of the
judgment to determine whether its language is plain and
unambiguous or ambiguous. Id. at ¶ 5. If the
language is unambiguous, then the analysis ends and we must
accept the "literal meaning of the language used."
Sullivan v. Quist, 506 N.W.2d 394, 401 (N.D. 1993).
Only if the language is ambiguous is there room for
construction to reach a fair and reasonable interpretation.
8] The 1945 judgment decrees that Lyman and Martha were
"the owners in fee simple absolute" of the
property. North American Successors asserts this language is
ambiguous because it does not describe the relative ownership
between Lyman and Martha. They argue fee simple absolute in
this context means the property belonged to them and nobody
else, but it does not describe the fractional share of
interest that might have been vested in Martha. Lyman and
Martha may have been co-plaintiffs in the quiet title action
simply because of her homestead interest, without intention
to alter their relative ownership. E.g., Sexton v.
Sutherland, 37 N.D. 500, 510-11, 164 N.W. 278, 282 (N.D.
1917) (acknowledging "she may maintain an action to
determine adverse claims to her homestead, even though the
legal title thereto is ...