Murray v. BEJ Minerals, LLCAnnotate this Case
The Supreme Court accepted a question certified to it by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and answered that, under Montana law, dinosaur fossils do not constitute "minerals" for the purpose of a mineral reservation.
Mary Ann and Lige Murray owned the surface estate of sizable property in Garfield County. The mineral estate was held by BEJ Minerals, LLC and RTWF LLC (collectively, BEJ). The Murrays found and excavated several valuable dinosaur fossils on their property. When BEJ claimed an ownership interest in the fossils the Murrays sought a declaratory judgment affirming that the fossils were owned solely by the Murrays. BEJ filed a counterclaim requesting a declaratory judgment that, under Montana law, the fossils were "minerals" and thus part of the mineral estate. The federal district court granted summary judgment to the Murrays. On appeal, a Ninth Circuit panel reversed. The Murrays then filed a petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc. The Ninth Circuit certified the question to the Supreme Court for resolution under Montana law. The Supreme Court "decline[d] to stretch the term 'mineral' so far outside its ordinary meaning as to include dinosaur fossils," concluding that, under Montana law, dinosaur fossils do not constitute "minerals" for the purpose of a mineral reservation.