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Stuber v. Engel

Supreme Court of North Dakota

August 2, 2017

Dudley J. Stuber, Trustee of the D.J. Stuber Land and Royalty Trust and Rocky R. Svihl as Trustee of the RGKH Mineral & Royalty Trust Dated 11-1-95, Plaintiffs and Appellants
v.
Douglas F. Engel, Nikki Engel, Robert Candee, Coleen Rae Baxter, Dirk Ronald Baxter, Frank A. Steinbeck, Patricia E. Steinbeck, John F. Steinbeck, Margaret Steinbeck, Lillian Dasinger as Trustee of the Lillian Dasinger Family Trust, Tracy Dawn Rude, and Jason Scott Hukill, Defendants and Appellees
v.
EOG Resources, Inc., Intervenor and Appellee

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

          Chris A. Edison, Bismarck, N.D., for plaintiffs and appellants.

          Thomas E. Kalil (argued) and H. Malcolm Pippin (on brief), Williston, N.D., for defendants and appellees.

          Amy L. De Kok (argued) and Jade B. Jorgenson (appeared), Bismarck, N.D., for intervenor and appellee EOG Resources, Inc.

          OPINION

          TUFTE, JUSTICE.

         [¶ 1] Dudley Stuber, trustee of the D.J. Stuber Land and Royalty Trust, and Rocky Svihl, trustee of the RGKH Mineral & Royalty Trust (collectively "Plaintiffs") appealed from a judgment deciding ownership of certain mineral interests in favor of the estates of Victoria Davis and Helen Jaumotte. We affirm the district court's decision quieting title, but reverse its decision awarding damages to the Victoria Davis and Helen Jaumotte heirs.

         I

         [¶ 2] Charlotte Nohle owned minerals in and under property located in Williams and McKenzie Counties. She died in 1957 and her will directed the mineral interests be distributed to her "living brothers and sisters." The final decree of distribution indicated Victoria Davis, Nohle's sister, received a one-fifth share of the minerals in Williams and McKenzie Counties.

         [¶ 3] Davis died in 1976. Her will directed her mineral interests be distributed to her daughter, Helen Jaumotte. Her will was probated in Montana, and Helen Jaumotte was issued letters appointing her the personal representative of Davis's estate. Helen Jaumotte was married to Jay Jaumotte. Helen Jaumotte died in 1991. Her will stated:

I give to my husband, if he survives me by thirty (30) days, the use and enjoyment of the income from the mineral interests in lands formerly owned by CHARLOTTE C. NOHLE, and given to me by my mother, VICTORIA F. DAVIS. Upon my husband's death, those mineral interests and the use and enjoyment thereof revert to the issue of CHARLOTTE C. NOHLE, in keeping with her Will, specifically to FLOYD A. ENGEL, MRS. ELLA STEINBECK, MRS. DOROTHY FREEMAN, and MRS. CECIL BAXTER, and each of their issue by representation.

         Helen Jaumotte was a resident of Yavapai County, Arizona, at the time of her death, and her estate was probated in Yavapai County. Jay Jaumotte was appointed Helen Jaumotte's personal representative, and letters appointing him personal representative were issued in 1991. In 1992, Jay Jaumotte was also appointed successor personal representative of the Davis estate in Montana, and letters of appointment were issued.

         [¶ 4] On July 8, 1998, Jay Jaumotte, individually and as personal representative of the Davis and Helen Jaumotte estates, conveyed the minerals in Williams and McKenzie Counties to Northland Royalty Corp. by mineral deed. On July 15, 1998, Northland conveyed the Williams County minerals to Outback Lumber Supply, the D.J. Stuber Land and Royalty Trust, and the RGKH Mineral and Royalty Trust. In 2004, Outback Lumber Supply transferred its interest in the Williams County minerals to the D.J. Stuber Land and Royalty Trust and the RGKH Mineral and Royalty Trust. On January 11, 1999, Northland conveyed the McKenzie County minerals to the D.J. Stuber Land and Royalty Trust.

         [¶ 5] In 2008, the Plaintiffs sued Victoria Davis and Helen Jaumotte's heirs to quiet title to the minerals in Williams and McKenzie Counties. The heirs counterclaimed, seeking a determination that they are the rightful owners of the minerals. They claimed the Plaintiffs' titles derived from a void deed and the Plaintiffs were not good-faith purchasers.

         [¶ 6] EOG Resources moved to intervene as a defendant, claiming it has an interest in the oil and gas leasehold estate and its interest was not adequately represented by the existing parties. The district court granted the motion to intervene.

         [¶ 7] The Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment, arguing there were no genuine issues of material fact and they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. They claimed Jay Jaumotte was authorized to sell property in North Dakota as a foreign personal representative, Northland was a good-faith purchaser and was entitled to statutory protections under N.D.C.C. § 30.1-18-14, and the statute of limitations had expired, precluding the heirs' claims. The heirs also moved for summary judgment. The heirs argued the deeds transferring the minerals to Northland were void because Jay Jaumotte lacked any authority to act on behalf of the Davis or Helen Jaumotte estates when dealing with North Dakota property, the Plaintiffs were not good-faith purchasers, and there were genuine issues of material fact about whether Northland was a good-faith purchaser. EOG responded to the motions, arguing the Plaintiffs have no interest in the mineral estate, the Plaintiffs' predecessor-in-interest had notice of the heirs' potential interests in the property and failed to investigate, and the Plaintiffs and Northland were not good-faith purchasers.

         [¶ 8] After a hearing, the district court denied the motions for summary judgment. The court concluded the action was not time-barred by the statute of limitations, Jay Jaumotte was not authorized to act as the personal representative of either the Davis or Helen Jaumotte estates with regard to the North Dakota property, Jay Jaumotte did not have the power to issue the mineral deeds to Northland, and there were genuine issues of material fact about Northland and the Plaintiffs' status as good-faith purchasers.

         [¶ 9] After a bench trial, the district court dismissed the Plaintiffs' claims with prejudice and ordered the Plaintiffs to execute deeds conveying the Williams and McKenzie County minerals to the Davis and Helen Jaumotte estates. The court ruled Jay Jaumotte was not authorized to act as the personal representative of either estate with regard to North Dakota property, the Plaintiffs were on constructive and actual notice Jay Jaumotte did not have authority to issue any deeds, and the Plaintiffs were not good-faith purchasers under N.D.C.C. § 30.1-18-14. The court also ordered the Plaintiffs to provide the heirs with an ...


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