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Hallin v. Inland Oil & Gas Corp.

Supreme Court of North Dakota

October 17, 2017

Joan Marie Hallin and John P. Hallin, and Susan Kay Bradford, Plaintiffs and Appellants
v.
Inland Oil & Gas Corporation, Defendant and Appellee

         Appeal from the District Court of Mountrail County, North Central Judicial District, the Honorable Richard L. Hagar, Judge.

          Kerry J. Carpenter, Bismarck, ND, for plaintiffs and appellants.

          Wade C. Mann, Bismarck, ND, for defendant and appellee.

          OPINION

          JENSEN, JUSTICE.

         [¶ 1] Joan Hallin, John Hallin and Susan Bradford (collectively Hallin and Bradford) appeal from a judgment in favor of Inland Oil & Gas Corporation. The district court interpreted oil and gas leases and concluded they were unambiguous and transferred all of Hallin and Bradford's mineral interests at issue to Inland. We affirm.

         I

         [¶ 2] In 2007, Hallin and Bradford each leased to Inland mineral interests they owned in 160 acres of land in Mountrail County. The leases provided Hallin and Bradford leased to Inland "all that certain tract of land situated in Mountrail County."

         [¶ 3] Hallin and Bradford, along with members of their extended family, owned a fraction of the minerals in the entire 160 acres. On the basis of irregularities in the chain of title, it was unclear whether Hallin and Bradford collectively owned sixty net mineral acres or eighty net mineral acres when the parties executed the leases. Hallin and Bradford believed they owned sixty net mineral acres and their relatives owned sixty acres. When Hallin and Bradford executed the leases, they also received payment drafts for a rental bonus showing they each leased thirty acres to Inland. The leases provide royalty compensation based upon the number of net mineral acres.

         [¶ 4] In 2011, Hallin and Bradford sued to determine the mineral ownership between themselves and their relatives. In Hallin v. Lyngstad, 2013 ND 168, ¶ 19, 837 N.W.2d 888, this Court decided Hallin and Bradford collectively owned eighty net mineral acres and their relatives owned forty net mineral acres.

         [¶ 5] Inland and Hallin and Bradford disagreed whether the leases covered all of Hallin and Bradford's mineral interests. Hallin and Bradford sued Inland, arguing they leased sixty acres and the remaining twenty acres were not leased. Inland argued Hallin and Bradford leased eighty acres because the leases cover all of their mineral interests. Both parties moved for summary judgment. Hallin and Bradford argued an earlier case, Borth v. Gulf Oil Exploration and Prod. Co., 313 N.W.2d 706 (N.D. 1981), was factually similar and should control. They also argued the leases and the payment drafts should be read together to show they each leased thirty net mineral acres. Inland argued the leases were unambiguous and cover all of Hallin and Bradford's mineral interests. The district court granted summary judgment to Inland, concluding the leases were unambiguous and that "as a matter of law, the Hallins and Bradford leased to Inland whatever interest they had in the subject property at the time the leases were executed."

         II

         [¶ 6] The 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.

THR Minerals, LLC v. Robinson, 2017 ND 78, ¶ 6, 892 N.W.2d 193 (quoting Markgraf v. Welker, 2015 ND 303, ¶ 10, 873 N.W.2d 26). "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 Northe ...


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