ANADARKO LAND CORPORATION f/k/a UNION PACIFIC LAND RESOURCES CORPORATION, a Nebraska Corporation, and THREE SISTERS, LLC, a Wyoming Limited Liability Company, Appellants (Defendants),
FAMILY TREE CORPORATION, a Wyoming Corporation, Appellee (Plaintiff).
from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable
Thomas T.C. Campbell, Judge
Representing Appellants: Patrick R. Day, P.C.; Walter F.
Eggers III, P.C.; and JoAnna S. DeWald of Holland & Hart
LLP, Cheyenne, WY for Appellant Anadarko Land Corporation.
Henry F. Bailey Jr. and Douglas W. Bailey of Bailey, Stock
& Harmon, P.C., Cheyenne, WY for Appellant Three Sisters,
LLC. Argument by Mr. Day.
Representing Appellee: Lucas Buckley of Hathaway & Kunz,
P.C., Cheyenne, WY.
BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.
Anadarko Land Corporation (Anadarko) appeals a district court
decision upholding the validity of a 1911 Laramie County tax
assessment against minerals owned by Anadarko's
predecessor, as well as the tax sale and tax deed that
eventually emanated from the failure to pay those taxes. We
Anadarko presents a single issue on appeal:
Whether the district court erred in quieting title to
Appellee Family Tree based upon a 1912 tax sale that was void
This case presents a dispute over title to certain mineral
interests underlying Section 7, Township 14 North, Range 65
West, 6th P.M., in Laramie County (hereinafter Section 7).
Section 7, both its mineral and surface estates, was among
lands that the United States, in 1901, granted by patent and
deed to Union Pacific Railroad Company (Union Pacific). The
present title dispute arises out of a 1911 Laramie County tax
assessment against Union Pacific's Section 7 mineral
interests and the county's subsequent tax sale and
issuance of a tax deed for the property.
Tax Assessment and Sale
In 1911, Laramie County assessed taxes on the unproduced
minerals underlying Section 7. Union Pacific did not pay the
assessed taxes, and in 1912, Laramie County placed the
Section 7 minerals up for bid at a tax sale. No one bid on
the Section 7 minerals, so Laramie County bid on and acquired
the Section 7 minerals. Union Pacific did not exercise its
right to redeem the Section 7 minerals or otherwise seek to
recover the property following the 1912 tax sale.
In 1919, Laramie County sold the Section 7 minerals to Iowa
Land & Livestock Company. The tax deed for the Section 7
minerals was not, however, issued until March 1949. The
record contains no explanation for the delay in issuing the
tax deed, but the parties do not dispute that the deed
resulted from the 1912 tax sale and Laramie County's
subsequent sale of the Section 7 minerals in 1919.
Diverging Chains of Title
Although Union Pacific did not exercise its right to redeem
the Section 7 minerals or otherwise seek to recover the
property following the 1912 tax sale, it thereafter conducted
itself as if it still owned the Section 7 minerals. In
September 1914, Union Pacific conveyed Section 7 to Iowa Land
& Livestock Company by warranty deed, and through that
deed Union Pacific purported to reserve for itself, its
successors and assigns, all oil, coal, and other minerals
underlying Section 7. Two claimed chains of title thus
emerged following the 1912 tax sale, one stemming from Union
Pacific's purported ownership of the Section 7 minerals,
and one stemming from Laramie County's tax sale of the
minerals and issuance of a tax deed.
Appellant Anadarko's Title Claim
Appellant Anadarko Land Corporation (Anadarko) claims title
to the Section 7 minerals by a direct conveyance from Union
Pacific, several years after the tax sale. Specifically, in
April 1971, Union Pacific conveyed, by quitclaim deed, its
rights, title and interest in Section 7 to Union Pacific Land
Resources Corporation, Anadarko's predecessor in
interest. Effective December 1, 2000, Union Pacific Land
Resources Corporation changed its name to RME Land
Corporation. Effective October 1, 2002, RME Land Corporation
changed its name to Anadarko Land Corporation (Anadarko).
Anadarko's claim of title therefore originated with Union
Pacific's original 1901 patent and its purported
reservation of the Section 7 minerals in the 1914 conveyance
from Union Pacific to Iowa Land and Livestock Company, and it
concluded with the April 1971 conveyance.
Appellee Family Tree's Title Claim
Appellee Family Tree Corporation (Family Tree) claims title
to portions of the Section 7 minerals. In June 2010, Family
Tree obtained certain of the Section 7 mineral interests by
entering into an oil and gas lease. In June 2014, additional
Section 7 mineral interests were conveyed to Family Tree by a
mineral grant deed. The chain of title that led to Family
Tree's lease and the mineral grant deed is as follows:
September 15, 1914: Warranty Deed from Union
Pacific to Iowa Land and Livestock, granting the surface of
Section 7 and purporting to reserve the Section 7 minerals.
December 9, 1918: Warranty Deed from Iowa
Land and Livestock to U.G. John conveying all of Section 7
with no express reservation of the Section 7 minerals.
March 5, 1919: Minutes of county
commissioners meeting reflecting the acceptance of the sale
of the Section 7 minerals to Iowa Land and Livestock.
September 29, 1923: Warranty Deed from U.G.
John and Frances John to Bell Livestock conveying all of
Section 7 with no express reservation of the Section 7
April 28, 1934: Warranty Deed from Bell
Livestock to Howard S. Christensen conveying all of Section 7
with no express reservation of the Section 7 minerals.
March 2, 1949: Laramie County
Commissioner's Deed conveying to Iowa Land and Livestock
all Section 7 minerals.
November 4, 1969: Warranty Deed from Howard
S. and Verna M. Christensen to Ray L. Alexander and Georgia
Alexander conveying a parcel of Section 7 with no express
reservation of minerals.
September 5, 1976: Warranty Deed from Howard
S. Christensen to Edward E. Kopsa and Phyllis E. Kopsa, and
Bill McIlvain and Ila McIlvain conveying a parcel of Section
7 with no express reservation of minerals.
September 29, 1976: Warranty Deed from
Howard S. Christensen to Ray L. and Georgia L. Alexander
conveying to them a second parcel of Section 7 with no
express reservation of minerals.
June 23, 2003: Warranty deed from the
Alexanders to the Alexander Revocable Trust conveying both
their Section 7 parcels with no express reservation of
June 12, 2010: Paid-Up Oil and Gas Lease
between Family Tree as lessee and Raymond and Georgia
Alexander, Trustees of the Alexander Revocable Trust, as
lessors, leasing the Alexander Section 7 parcels to Family
June 4, 2014: Mineral Grant Deed between
Family Tree, as grantee, and Bill D. McIlvain and Ila M.
McIlvain, as grantors, conveying one-half of their interest
in the minerals underlying their Section 7 lands.
Appellant Three Sisters' Title Claim
Appellant Three Sisters also claims an ownership interest in
the Section 7 minerals and is aligned with Anadarko. In their
joint summary judgment memorandum, Anadarko and Three Sisters
explained Three Sisters' interest:
[O]n April 20, 2001, RME Land Corporation entered into a
Settlement Agreement with Three Sisters, LLC whereby each
party quitclaimed to the other all rights, title, and
interests necessary to vest in each other an undivided
½ interest in the mineral estate of the Property. The
Settlement Agreement was recorded on July 17, 2001 in the
office of the County Clerk of Laramie County, Wyoming at Book
1601, Page 163. * * * *
It is important to note that prior to the April 20 2001,
Settlement Agreement between RME Land Corporation and Three
Sisters, LLC, Three Sisters claimed it was the successor in
interest to Iowa Land & Livestock Company and thus owned
the mineral estate of the Property by virtue of the 1949
Commissioners' Deed. RME did not dispute that Three
Sisters was the successor to Iowa Land & Livestock
Company. However, it did dispute Three Sisters' claim to
the mineral estate. Rather than incur the substantial cost of
litigation, RME and Three Sisters came to the Settlement
Agreement which was duly executed and recorded in the office
of the County Clerk of Laramie County,
Family Tree hired a landman, Maggie Atkinson, to trace the
ownership of their mineral interests. In an affidavit, Ms.
Atkinson explained her findings with respect to Three
Sisters' claimed interest in the Section 7 minerals:
36. At no time in all my research, aside from the 2001
Settlement Agreement, did I find any conveyance to Three
Sisters. I found no quitclaim, warranty, or other deed in the
chain of title for Section 7 wherein Three Sisters was a
grantee of any rights, other than their inclusion on the 2001
Settlement Agreement contained at Book 1601, Page 163.
District Court Proceedings
On June 24, 2014, Family Tree filed in district court a
Complaint for Quiet Title and Declaratory Judgment against
Anadarko and Three Sisters. Through its complaint, Family
Tree alleged that the recorded settlement agreement between
Anadarko and Three Sisters was a cloud on its title to its
Section 7 mineral interests and it requested that the court
declare the settlement agreement null and void and that it
quiet title to the property in Family Tree and the owners
through whom Family Tree claimed its interest. After answers
were filed, the parties eventually filed cross motions for
The primary dispute between the parties concerned the effect
of Laramie County's 1911 tax assessment against Union
Pacific's Section 7 minerals and its subsequent tax sale
of the property. Anadarko and Three Sisters argued that the
tax assessment against Union Pacific's minerals in place
was unconstitutional and invalid and the resulting tax deed
was therefore void ab initio. Family Tree argued
that the tax assessment and tax deed were valid and that the
attempt by Anadarko and Three Sisters to challenge the
assessment and deed was barred by the six-year statute of
On February 11, 2016, the district court issued a decision
letter announcing its ruling in favor of Family Tree. The
court found that while modern law would not allow taxation of
minerals in place, Laramie County's taxing authority was
much broader under Wyoming law in 1911. The court thus
concluded that the tax was valid and that Union Pacific
forfeited its rights to the Section 7 minerals when it failed
to redeem or otherwise recover the property within the time
allowed by statute. The court also applied the after-acquired
doctrine to unify the Section 7 mineral and surface estates,
In Wyoming, "[w]hen the surface is granted without
reference to the mineral estate, it is presumed the mineral
estate is included." Gilstrap v. June Eisele Warren
Trust, 2006 WY 21, ¶ 15, 106 P.3d 858, 863 (Wyo.
2005). Under the doctrines of estoppel by deed and
after-acquired title, which have been adopted in Wyoming,
"one who acquires a title or estate which he has
previously conveyed is estopped to assert his after-acquired
title as against the grantee or his successor."
Kennedy Oil v. Lance Oil & Gas Company, Inc.,
2008 WY 9, ¶ 28, 126 P.3d 875, 884 (Wyo. 2006) (quoting
3 American Law of Property §§ 15.18, 15.19 (A.
James Casner ed., 1952)); see also Town of Glenrock v.
Abadie, 71 Wyo. 414, 259 P.2d 766, 769 (Wyo. 1953)
(noting "the general rule is that, if a grantor of real
estate having no title, a defective title, or an estate less
than that which he assumed to grant subsequently acquires the
title or estate which he purported to convey, or perfect his
title, such after acquired or perfected title will inure to
the grantee or to his benefit."). Pursuant to these
doctrines, by virtue of the various warranty deeds, U.G.
John's title to the minerals was superior, at the time of
the Commissioners' Deed, to Iowa Land and Livestock
Company's title. Similarly, Bell Livestock Company's
mineral title was superior to U.G. John's, and so on
until the title to the surface and minerals unified in Howard
S. Christensen in 1949. Therefore, Family Tree's ultimate
title to the minerals is not affected by the timing of any
conveyances or by the fact that the Commissioners' Deed
was not delivered and recorded until 1949.
Based on its analysis, the district court concluded that
neither Anadarko nor Three Sisters had an interest in the
Section 7 minerals and it declared their 2001 Settlement
Agreement an invalid cloud on the title. The court
thereafter, on March 29, 2016, entered its Order Granting
Summary Judgment. On April 28, 2016, Anadarko and Three
Sisters filed a timely notice of appeal to this