Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Tyrannosaurus Lex

On May 20, 2020, in Murray v. BEJ Minerals, the Supreme Court of Montana ("Montana Supremes") granted custody of a Tyrannosaurus rex and bits of a Triceratops.  The legal issue, as framed by the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, is
Whether, under Montana law, dinosaur fossils constitute “minerals” for the purpose of a mineral reservation?
The Montana Supremes held as follows:
We conclude that, under Montana law, dinosaur fossils do not constitute “minerals” for the purpose of a mineral reservation.  The ordinary and natural meaning of “mineral”—as it is used in the context of a general mineral reservation and mineral transactions—involves resources such as hard compounds, oil, or gas, mined as a raw material, to be used for further processing, refinement, and economic exploitation.  Although a material’s mineral content may render the material rare and valuable, and therefore within the ordinary and natural meaning of “mineral,” dinosaur fossils are not considered rare and valuable because of their mineral properties; rather, fossils are valuable because of characteristics other than mineral composition.  Finally, dinosaur fossils’ relation to the surface, and the effect their removal has on the value of the surface estate, is the final factor in determining dinosaur fossils to be outside the ordinary and natural meaning of “mineral,” as that term was used in the [current and prior land owners'] mineral deed.  We decline to stretch the term “mineral” so far outside its ordinary meaning as to include dinosaur fossils.
In her vigorous dissent, Justice Ingrid Gustafson pointed out that "The dinosaur fossils here...have a 100% mineral composition."  However, in Montana at least, this legal theory about such wondrous fossils has now gone the way of the dinosaurs.

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