Murray v. BEJ Minerals, LLC, No. 16-35506 (9th Cir. 2020)

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Justia Opinion Summary

The en banc court affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to plaintiffs and declaring them owners of dinosaur fossils discovered on their ranch.

The Montana Supreme Court accepted the en banc court's certification request and answered the certified question, concluding that dinosaur fossils were not within the "ordinary and natural meaning" of "mineral" and, thus, belonged to the surface estate. In this case, because plaintiffs are the undisputed owners of the surface estate, the state court's decision requires a resolution in their favor.

Court Description: Montana Law. The en banc court affirmed the district court’s order granting summary judgment to plaintiffs and declaring them owners of dinosaur fossils discovered on their ranch. The Montana Supreme Court accepted a certification request from the en banc court, answered the certified question, and concluded that dinosaur fossils were not within the “ordinary and natural meaning” of “mineral” and, thus, belonged to the surface estate. The en banc court held that because the plaintiffs were the undisputed owners of the surface estate at issue, the Supreme Court’s decision required a resolution in their favor.

This opinion or order relates to an opinion or order originally issued on November 6, 2018.

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FOR PUBLICATION UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT MARY ANN MURRAY; LIGE M. MURRAY, Plaintiffs-Counter-DefendantsAppellees, No. 16-35506 D.C. No. 1:14-cv-00106SPW v. BEJ MINERALS, LLC; RTWF, LLC, Defendants-Counter-ClaimantsAppellants. OPINION Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Montana Susan P. Watters, District Judge, Presiding Submitted En Banc June 9, 2020* San Francisco, California Filed June 17, 2020 Before: Sidney R. Thomas, Chief Judge, and Kim McLane Wardlaw, Marsha S. Berzon, Jay S. Bybee, Consuelo M. Callahan, Sandra S. Ikuta, Mary H. Murguia, Morgan Christen, Paul J. Watford, Michelle T. Friedland, and Ryan D. Nelson, Circuit Judges Opinion by Chief Judge Thomas * The panel unanimously concludes this case is suitable for decision without oral argument. See Fed. R. App. P. 34(a)(2). 2 MURRAY V. BEJ MINERALS SUMMARY** Montana Law The en banc court affirmed the district court’s order granting summary judgment to plaintiffs and declaring them owners of dinosaur fossils discovered on their ranch. The Montana Supreme Court accepted a certification request from the en banc court, answered the certified question, and concluded that dinosaur fossils were not within the “ordinary and natural meaning” of “mineral” and, thus, belonged to the surface estate. The en banc court held that because the plaintiffs were the undisputed owners of the surface estate at issue, the Supreme Court’s decision required a resolution in their favor. COUNSEL Eric D. Miller (argued), Perkins Coie LLP, Seattle, Washington; Shane R. Swindle, Perkins Coie LLP, Phoenix, Arizona; Brian C. Lake, Perkins Coie LLP, Phoenix, Arizona; for Defendants-Counter-Claimants-Appellants. Harlan B. Krogh (argued) and Eric Edward Nord, Crist Krogh & Nord PLLC, Billings, Montana, for Plaintiffs-CounterDefendants-Appellees. ** This summary constitutes no part of the opinion of the court. It has been prepared by court staff for the convenience of the reader. MURRAY V. BEJ MINERALS 3 Gary S. Guzy and Pooja S. Kothari, Covington & Burling LLP, Washington, D.C., for Amici Curiae Paleontological Societies and Scientific Institutions. Colleen M. Dowdall, Dowdall Law, Missoula, Montana, for Amicus Curiae United Property Owners of Montana (UPOM). OPINION THOMAS, Chief Judge: After granting rehearing en banc in Murray v. BEJ Minerals, LLC, 908 F.3d 437 (9th Cir. 2018), see Murray v. BEJ Minerals, LLC, 920 F.3d 583 (9th Cir. 2019), we certified the following question, an issue of first impression under Montana law and dispositive of the instant case, to the Montana Supreme Court: Whether, under Montana law, dinosaur fossils constitute “minerals” for the purpose of a mineral reservation. Murray v. BEJ Minerals, 924 F.3d 1070, 1074 (9th Cir. 2019) (citing Mont. R. App. P. 15). The Montana Supreme Court graciously accepted our certification request, Murray v. BEJ Minerals, No. 19-0304, 2019 WL 2383604 (Mont. June 4, 2019), and then answered our certified question, without modification and on the facts and procedural history provided in our certification order. See Murray v. BEJ Minerals, LLC, 2020 MT 131, ¶¶ 1–3 (Mont. 2020). It concluded that dinosaur fossils are not 4 MURRAY V. BEJ MINERALS within the “ordinary and natural meaning” of “mineral” and, thus, belong to the surface estate. Id. at ¶ 41. Because Mary Ann and Lige Murray (the “Murrays”) are the undisputed owners of the surface estate here, see Murray, 924 F.3d at 1072, the Supreme Court’s decision requires a resolution in their favor. Accordingly, the district court’s order granting summary judgment to the Murrays and declaring them the sole owners of dinosaur fossils discovered on their ranch, see Murray v. Billings Garfield Land Co., 187 F. Supp. 3d 1203, 1204 (D. Mont. 2016), is AFFIRMED.
Primary Holding

The Montana Supreme Court accepted the en banc court's certification request and answered the certified question, concluding that dinosaur fossils were not within the "ordinary and natural meaning" of "mineral" and, thus, belonged to the surface estate.


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