Supreme Court of Texas Blog: Legal Issues Before the Texas Supreme Court

No. 14-0984
TAMES

MADELON HYSAW, KATHRYN HYSAW WEAFER, MICHAEL AND CINDY BURRIS FAMILY PARTNERSHIP III, LTD., BYRON M. BURRIS AND JUDITH ANN BURRIS DZIUK v. BRETTON GUY DAWKINS, BRADLEY KEN DAWKINS, JERRY HOWARD OXFORD AND SHARON ANN OXFORD

Oral argument was held on December 8, 2015. The Court issued an opinion resolving the case on January 29, 2016. File Closed

In the news...

Tracking 1 article about this case.

January 29, 2016

Challenge to school religious policy not moot; two oil and gas cases; timing is crucial in arguing for an easement to a roadway [Jan. 29, 2016]

from SCOTXblog

This article also mentions 5 other cases.

The Court has issued opinions:

Opinion

January 29, 2016

Guzman
Hecht
Green
Johnson
Willett
Lehrmann
Boyd
Devine
Brown

Justice Guzman delivered the opinion of the Court. PDF

 

Court of Appeals

Appellate District:4th Court of Appeals
Outcome Below:Reverse & Render
COA Docket No.:04-13-00539-CV
Opinion Author:Honorable Patricia O. Alvarez

Trial Court

Trial Court:81st District Court
County:Karnes
Trial Judge:Honorable Donna S. Rayes
Trial Docket:12-05-00107-CVK

Entries on SCOTX Orders Lists

Docket Entries

Date Event Outcome  
2016-03-11 Mandate issued  
2016-01-29 Court approved judgment sent to attorneys of record Issued
2016-01-29 Opinion issued   Court of Appeals' judgment reversed & judgment rendered
  This case was awaiting the Court's decision after oral argument between December 8, 2015 and January 29, 2016.  
2015-12-08 Oral argument  
2015-12-07 Exhibits in case/cause filed (Petitioner)  
2015-10-29 Oral Argument Submission Form from Attorney received  
2015-10-12 Oral Argument Submission Form from Attorney received  
2015-10-09 Case set for oral argument   Case set for oral argument
2015-10-09 Petition for Review disposed Filing granted
2015-10-09 Petition for Review granted
2015-09-04 Reply Brief (Petitioner)  
2015-08-11 Call received  
2015-08-10 Brief on the Merits (Respondent)  
2015-07-02 Motion for Extension of Time disposed.   Filing granted
2015-07-02 Motion for Extension of Time to File Brief filed  
2015-07-01 Brief on the Merits (Petitioner)  
2015-05-15 Motion for Extension of Time to File Brief filed  
2015-05-15 Motion for Extension of Time disposed.   Filing granted
2015-05-07 Case Record Filed  
2015-05-01 Brief on the Merits Requested  
2015-05-01 Record Requested in Petition for Review  
2015-04-22 Amicus Curiae Brief received  
2015-04-02 Reply to Response (Petitioner)  
2015-03-13 Response to Petition (Respondent)  
2015-02-20 Supreme Court of Texas Requested Response  
2015-02-17 Amicus Curiae Brief received  
2015-02-12 Amicus Curiae Brief received  
2015-01-20 Case forwarded to Court
2015-01-14 Response Waiver filed  
2015-01-05 Petition for Review (Petitioner)  
2014-11-26 Motion for Extension of Time to File Petition for Review disposed   Filing granted
2014-11-25 Motion for Extension of Time to File Petition for Review filed  

Parties

Party Counsel Role
Dawkins, Brenton Guy
Mr. Michael G. Maloney
Ms. Judith R. Blakeway
Mr. James Maverick McNeel
Respondent
Hysaw, Madelon
Ms. Mary A. Keeney
Mr. Boyce C. Cabaniss
Mr. John B. McFarland
Ms. Laura H. Burney
Petitioner
Oxford, Sharon Ann
Mr. Michael G. Maloney
Ms. Judith R. Blakeway
Mr. James Maverick McNeel
Respondent
Oxford, Jerry Howard
Ms. Judith R. Blakeway
Mr. Michael G. Maloney
Mr. James Maverick McNeel
Respondent
Burris, Byron M.
Mr. Thomas H. Crofts Jr.
Mr. Robert C. McKay
Petitioner
Dziuk, Judith Ann Burris
Mr. Robert C. McKay
Mr. Thomas H. Crofts Jr.
Petitioner
Weafer, Kathryn Hysaw
Mr. John B. McFarland
Ms. Mary A. Keeney
Mr. Boyce C. Cabaniss
Ms. Laura H. Burney
Petitioner
Dawkins, Bradley Ken
Mr. Michael G. Maloney
Ms. Judith R. Blakeway
Mr. James Maverick McNeel
Respondent
Michael and Cindy Burris Family Partnership III, Ltd.
Mr. Thomas H. Crofts Jr.
Mr. Robert C. McKay
Petitioner

Amici Curiae

Amicus Curiae Counsel
Akins, Jeffrey R.
Mr. Jeffrey R. Akins
Cummings, Allen D.
Mr. Allen D. Cummings
Miles, M. C. Cottingham
Matthew Miles
Trinity Mineral Management, Ltd.
Mr. J. Byron Burton III

Interpreting fractions in older documents conveying a royalty interest in minerals

oil and gas

In 1947, Ethel Hysaw executed a will that would divide her properties among three children. Although the surface parcels were divided in different proportions, with one getting the homestead and another getting a larger contiguous piece, the mineral royalty to be devised was the same for each: "an undivided one-third (1/3) of an undivided one-eighth (1/8) of all oil, gas or other minerals in or under or that may be produced from any of said lands." She passed away in 1949.

In 2008, a mineral lease was negotiated that offered an even larger royalty to the mineral estate, 1/5 (0.2) instead of 1/8 (0.125). This case is about who owns this additional 3/40 (0.075) interest. Should it be divided in proportion to the surface estate, because the will was specific about using the figure 1/8? Or should the will be interpreted to give an equal share to each of the original heirs, floating with the current market royalty?

The complexity comes from history. Before the 1970s, it was extraordinarily common that landowners would receive a 1/8 royalty, with some courts even taking judicial notice of that being the rate. Thus, a "double fraction" conveyance—in which a document assigns percentages or fractions of a "1/8" interest—have sometimes been interpreted to mean that the drafter intended the recipient to receive that percentage of the full royalty (assumed at that time to be 1/8), creating a royalty that floats with market conditions. In other contexts, courts have read these documents to suggest that two fractions should be multiplied to create a single, fixed royalty that does not change, regardless of later market conditions.

The Court's opinion contains an extensive discussion of how courts have grappled with this problem, as well as the rules of construction that should be applied. The Court cautioned against a mechanical approach, emphasizing that the larger context of the document can shed more light on the drafter's intent.

Here, the Court ultimately concluded that the intent was to give each heir a 1/3 interest that floated with the prevailing royalty. The Court placed special emphasis on a different section of the document, which conditionally gave each heir an equal 1/3 interest in the proceeds of any assignments of the royalty interest that Ethel might make during her lifetime. Although this clause about what might happen during her lifetime was not triggered (because the royalty interests stayed in the estate), the Court noted that this was still probative of Ethel's intent for how to divide royalties after her death.

Given that context, the Court holds that each of the original heirs was devised an equal, floating 1/3 interest in whatever royalty is later negotiated, not merely a fixed 1/24 royalty.

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