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Sorenson v. Bakken Investments LLC

Supreme Court of North Dakota

May 18, 2017

Craig and Barbara Sorenson, Plaintiffs and Appellees
Bakken Investments LLC, Creeping Cedar Oil, LLC, XTO Energy, Inc., Black Stone Minerals Co., LP, Pierce Exploration and Production Corp., Emile-Jean, Baesch-Muller, Ann-Marie Kienz Baesch, Milton S. Olson, Palmer and Doris Norby, Donald Karst, Wendell and Carole Tasker, Neal "Tuke" P. Burgess as Personal Representative for the Estate of Alan D. Burgess, Neal Burgess, Claire and Lois Bjorgen, William R. Anderson, LEAF Minerals, LLC, Ryan Masset, Peter Masset, Tricia Steffan, Kristi Anseth, Jay Anseth, Siri Njos, Avalon North, LLC, Red Rhino Resources, LLC, Dakota West Energy, Stallings Properties Ltd., Joe Gieb III, Sara Gieb, Peggy Helphrey, Wayne Sorenson, Richard Cernosek, Sacred Heart Church, Cyrill Kallus, Elizabeth Kallus, Marilyn Kallus Kothmann, Mike Kulhanek, Harry Mazurkiewicz, Joseph Hild, Gus Lindemann, David Machala, Kenneth Stevenson, William Everett, Danny Gumm, Randy Gumm, Bryan Gumm, Bakken Oil, LLC, Sundance Oil and Gas, LLC, Albert Frisch, Stallings Properties, LTD, Madeline Frisch, Miriam Philippe-Reuter, Marie Louise Frisch, Continental Resources, Inc., Newfield Production Co., Ashley Resources, Inc., Kodiak Oil and Gas, North Plains Energy, LLC, Maitre Fabienne Mondot, Theresa Pryor, and persons unknown claiming any estate or interest in, or lien or encumbrance upon, the mineral acres described in the complaint, Defendants and William Everett, Sara A. Gieb, Marilyn Kallus Kothmann, Elizabeth A. Kallus, Richard Cernosek, Bryan Gumm, Randy Gumm, Gus F. Lindemann, David F. Machala, Joe Gieb III, Stallings Properties Ltd., Joseph C. Hild, Mike Kulhanek, Kenneth Stevenson, and Harry Mazurkiewicz, Defendants and Appellants

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

          Joshua A. Swanson, Fargo, N.D., for plaintiffs and appellees.

          Shea A. Thomas (argued) and Nathan M. Bouray (appeared), Dickinson, N.D., for defendants and appellants.


          Tufte, Justice.

         [¶ 1] William Everett and 14 others (collectively "Everett defendants") appeal from a judgment quieting title to certain McKenzie County mineral interests in Craig and Barbara Sorenson against the Everett defendants. We affirm because collateral estoppel bars the Everett defendants' arguments in this case.


         [¶ 2] In 2010 the Sorensons sued the Everett defendants and others to quiet title to certain mineral interests, claiming they had succeeded to ownership of those interests because the interests were abandoned under the Termination of Mineral Interest Act, N.D.C.C. ch. 38-18.1. The Everett defendants each filed stipulations to dismiss the quiet title action against them with prejudice because "they have no financial or ownership interest" in the minerals at issue. Judgments against the Everett defendants were subsequently entered stating they are "hereby adjudicated to have no claim in the property at issue in Plaintiffs' Complaint pursuant to the parties['] Stipulations, " and dismissing them from the quiet title action with prejudice. The district court then granted the remaining defendants summary judgment dismissal of the quiet title action because the Sorensons had not complied with the notice provisions of N.D.C.C. ch. 38-18.1 and the minerals had been "used" within the relevant time period.

         [¶ 3] In 2012 the Sorensons commenced another quiet title action against the same defendants claiming entitlement to the same minerals because those interests were abandoned under N.D.C.C. ch. 38-18.1. In July 2015 a partial judgment was entered based on a stipulation between the Sorensons and the defendants other than the Everett defendants resolving various issues about mineral ownership. On November 20, 2015, the Everett defendants moved for summary judgment dismissal of the Sorensons' 2012 quiet title action. The Everett defendants argued they were not represented by counsel during the 2010 quiet title proceedings, they "mistakenly stipulat[ed] to entry of a judgment entered against them that disclaimed ownership of the mineral interests, " and the "incorrect Stipulations" did not make the Sorensons "the owners of these minerals."

         [¶ 4] On January 26, 2016, the Everett defendants filed a N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion in the 2010 case to vacate the stipulated judgments because the judgments were based on the "mistaken belief" that they "did not own a portion of the mineral interests at issue." On January 29, 2016, the district court in the 2012 litigation granted the Sorensons' cross-motion for summary judgment and quieted title in favor of them against the Everett defendants. The court ruled the Everett defendants' lack of counsel when they entered into the stipulations disclaiming any interests they may have had in the minerals was "not grounds for invalidating the valid and binding Judgments." On February 24, 2016, the court entered an order in the 2010 case denying the Everett defendants' N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion to vacate the stipulated judgments because the motion was untimely and the Everett defendants' "mistaken belief they had no interest in the minerals at issue is not a sufficient reason for disturbing final judgment." The court denied the Everett defendants' motion for reconsideration of the judgment in the 2012 litigation, and the Everett defendants appeal only from that judgment.


         [¶ 5] The Everett defendants argue the district court erred in granting summary judgment quieting title in the Sorensons because the judgments in the 2010 litigation did not convey the minerals to the Sorensons and the Sorensons failed to provide sufficient evidence that they complied with the lapsed mineral procedures in N.D.C.C. ch. 38-18.1.

         [¶ 6] Our standard for reviewing summary judgments 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 ...

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