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Oral argument was held on December 8, 2015. The Court issued an opinion resolving the case on January 29, 2016. File Closed
Tracking 1 article about this case.
Justice Guzman delivered the opinion of the Court. PDF
|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:||81st District Court|
|Trial Judge:||Honorable Donna S. Rayes|
|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.|
|2015-12-07||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||Petition for Review granted|
|2015-10-09||Case set for oral argument||Case set for oral argument|
|2015-10-09||Petition for Review disposed||Filing granted|
|2015-09-04||Reply Brief (Petitioner)|
|2015-08-10||Brief on the Merits (Respondent)|
|2015-07-02||Motion for Extension of Time to File Brief filed|
|2015-07-02||Motion for Extension of Time disposed.||Filing granted|
|2015-07-01||Brief on the Merits (Petitioner)|
|2015-05-15||Motion for Extension of Time disposed.||Filing granted|
|2015-05-15||Motion for Extension of Time to File Brief filed|
|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|
|Dawkins, Brenton Guy||
|Oxford, Sharon Ann||
|Oxford, Jerry Howard||
|Burris, Byron M.||
|Dziuk, Judith Ann Burris||
|Weafer, Kathryn Hysaw||
|Dawkins, Bradley Ken||
|Michael and Cindy Burris Family Partnership III, Ltd.||
|Akins, Jeffrey R.||
|Cummings, Allen D.||
|Miles, M. C. Cottingham||
|Trinity Mineral Management, Ltd.||
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.