Mary Ann MURRAY; Lige M. Murray, Plaintiffs-Counter-Defendants-Appellees, v. BEJ MINERALS, LLC; RTWF, LLC, Defendants-Counter-Claimants-Appellants.
Decided: June 17, 2020
Before: Sidney R. Thomas, Chief Judge, and Kim McLane Wardlaw, Marsha S. Berzon, Jay S. Bybee, Consuelo M. Callahan, Sandra S. Ikuta, Mary H. Murguia, Morgan Christen, Paul J. Watford, Michelle T. Friedland, and Ryan D. Nelson, Circuit Judges
Eric D. Miller (argued), Perkins Coie LLP, Seattle, Washington; Shane R. Swindle, Perkins Coie LLP, Phoenix, Arizona; Brian C. Lake, Perkins Coie LLP, Phoenix, Arizona; for Defendants-Counter-Claimants-Appellants. Harlan B. Krogh (argued) and Eric Edward Nord, Crist Krogh & Nord PLLC, Billings, Montana, for Plaintiffs-Counter-Defendants-Appellees. Gary S. Guzy and Pooja S. Kothari, Covington & Burling LLP, Washington, D.C., for Amici Curiae Paleontological Societies and Scientific Institutions. Colleen M. Dowdall, Dowdall Law, Missoula, Montana, for Amicus Curiae United Property Owners of Montana (UPOM).
After granting rehearing en banc in Murray v. BEJ Minerals, LLC, 908 F.3d 437 (9th Cir. 2018), see Murray v. BEJ Minerals, LLC, 920 F.3d 583 (9th Cir. 2019), we certified the following question, an issue of first impression under Montana law and dispositive of the instant case, to the Montana Supreme Court:
Whether, under Montana law, dinosaur fossils constitute “minerals” for the purpose of a mineral reservation.
Murray v. BEJ Minerals, 924 F.3d 1070, 1074 (9th Cir. 2019) (citing Mont. R. App. P. 15).
The Montana Supreme Court graciously accepted our certification request, Murray v. BEJ Minerals, No. 19-0304, 2019 WL 2383604 (Mont. June 4, 2019), and then answered our certified question, without modification and on the facts and procedural history provided in our certification order. See Murray v. BEJ Minerals, LLC, 2020 MT 131, ¶¶ 1–3, ––– Mont. ––––, 464 P.3d 80 (2020). It concluded that dinosaur fossils are not within the “ordinary and natural meaning” of “mineral” and, thus, belong to the surface estate. Id. at ¶ 41. Because Mary Ann and Lige Murray (the “Murrays”) are the undisputed owners of the surface estate here, see Murray, 924 F.3d at 1072, the Supreme Court's decision requires a resolution in their favor.
Accordingly, the district court's order granting summary judgment to the Murrays and declaring them the sole owners of dinosaur fossils discovered on their ranch, see Murray v. Billings Garfield Land Co., 187 F. Supp. 3d 1203, 1204 (D. Mont. 2016), is AFFIRMED.
THOMAS, Chief Judge:
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