Great Plains Royalty Corp. v. Earl Schwartz Co., et al.Annotate this Case
Earl Schwartz Company and the co-personal representatives of the Estate of Earl N. Schwartz (amongst others, together “ESCO”) and SunBehm Gas, Inc. appealed a judgment quieting title to oil and gas interests in Great Plains Royalty Corporation. Great Plains cross appealed, arguing the district court erred when it denied its claims for damages. Great Plains’ creditors filed an involuntary petition for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in 1968. The case was converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation proceeding. The bankruptcy trustee prepared an inventory and published a notice of sale that listed various assets, including oil and gas interests. Earl Schwartz was the highest bidder. Schwartz entered into an agreement with SunBehm to sell certain interests described in the notice, and the district court order approved the transfer of those interests directly from the bankruptcy estate to SunBehm. The bankruptcy case was closed in 1974. Great Plains’ creditors were not initially paid in full; the bankruptcy case was reopened in 2013, Great Plains’ creditors were paid in full with interest, and adversary proceedings were brought to determine ownership of various oil and gas interests, to which ESCO was a party. ESCO argued the bankruptcy sale transferred all of the interests owned by Great Plains, regardless of whether they were listed in the notice of sale. The bankruptcy court rejected ESCO’s argument and determined title to various properties (not the subject of the present appeal). Then in 2016, Great Plains brought this quiet title action against ESCO and SunBehm; ESCO and SunBehm brought quiet title cross claims. The district court held a bench trial and found the bankruptcy trustee intended to sell “100%” of all of the oil and gas interests Great Plains owned at the time of the bankruptcy. But the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed, finding the district court erred when it determined the bankruptcy trustee intended to sell all of Great Plains’ interests, including those not listed in the notice of sale. On remand, ESCO and SunBehm claimed they held equitable title to oil and gas interests in various tracts identified in the notice of sale, interest which were confirmed by the bankruptcy court. The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s ruling on collateral estoppel as a misapplication of the law, and vacated the court’s title determination and its denial of Great Plains’ conversion claim. The case was remanded for the court to determine whether ownership of any interests in the tracts identified in the notice of sale passed to ESCO or SunBehm by virtue of the bankruptcy sale and confirmation order.