Nelson v. McAlester Fuel Company

Ronnie Nelson owned a surface estate in Burke County who sought to use the mineral lapse statutes to obtain the mineral rights associated with the surface estate. Nelson published a notice of lapse of mineral interest against McAlester Fuel Company ("McAlester") for three consecutive weeks. Nelson filed an action to quiet title on 108 mineral acres in Burke County, a notice of no personal claim, and a sheriff's return in district court. Before filing his action to quiet title, Nelson also mailed a notice of claim and attempted to personally serve McAlester. The address to which Nelson mailed notice of claim appeared on a mineral deed dated March 6, 1958. McAlester filed no statement of claim within 60 days after Nelson published the notice of lapse. Nelson's complaint alleged he had substantially complied with the statutory procedure for claiming abandoned minerals. Nelson moved for entry of default judgment, and based upon what was provided to the district court and the fact McAlester did not file a statement of claim, the district court found McAlester had failed to use the mineral interests. The district court entered a default judgment on February 3, 2009. In 2015, McAlester filed a motion to vacate the default judgment. The district court concluded the judgment against McAlester was void and entered an order vacating the judgment quieting title. In its order to vacate, the district court determined Nelson failed to comply with the notice requirements of the statutory procedure for claiming abandoned minerals. McAlester moved to dismiss Nelson's action to quiet title for failure to state a claim and judgment on the pleadings. Nelson opposed the motion. Ultimately, the district court granted McAlester's motion to dismiss Nelson's quiet title action. On appeal, Nelson argued the district court erred because it concluded the abandoned mineral statute "requires a surface owner to conduct a reasonable inquiry to find a mineral owner's current address, even when an address appears of record." The Supreme Court found that this was not the basis for the district court's decision: the district court stated Nelson's mailing was not "reasonably certain" to reach McAlester. However, the district court then stated, "[a]llowing a claimant to pick any address from the record would encourage the claimant to always mail notice to the oldest address in the record in hopes that the address is stale, and that the notice would therefore not reach the intended target." The Supreme Court agreed with the district court that Nelson failed to comply with the statutory notice procedure, and affirmed its judgment. View "Nelson v. McAlester Fuel Company" on Justia Law