HELENA, Mont. (AP) – Million-dollar dinosaur fossils unearthed on Montana ranch belong to owners of surface rights, not owners of mining rights, Court of Appeal ruled American.
June 17 decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2016 ruling by U.S. district judge Susan Watters of Billings that the dinosaur fossils were part of the surface domain, not the mining domain, in the event of shared ownership. The surface rights where the fossils were found belong to Mary Ann and Lige Murray.
“The composition of the minerals found in fossils does not make them precious or worthless,” wrote Watters. “Instead, the value depends on characteristics other than the mineral composition, such as the completeness of the specimen, the species of dinosaur and how it is preserved.”
Brothers Jerry and Bo Severson, who owned two-thirds of the mining rights on a property formerly owned by their father, appealed Watters’ decision to the 9th circuit.
A panel of three appeals court judges quashed Watters’ decision in February 2018, but the Murrays requested that a larger panel of judges hear the case.
Meanwhile, the 2019 Montana Legislative Assembly passed a bill stating that dinosaur fossils are part of the surface area of a property, unless they are reserved as part of the mining area.
Before making its decision, the 9th Circuit asked the Montana Supreme Court to rule on whether the fossils were minerals under state law, because at the time the case was filed , there was no final law. In a 4-3 decision last month, Montana judges said that dinosaur fossils are not considered minerals by state law.
“Because Mary Ann and Lige Murray are the undisputed owners of the surface area here … the decision of the Supreme Court (Montana) requires a resolution in their favor,” wrote Chief Justice Sidney R. Thomas on behalf of himself and 10 other members of the 9th Circuit.
Murrays lawyer Eric Nord declined to comment on Tuesday. Shane Swindle, a lawyer for the Seversons, did not immediately return phone or email messages to ask if the Seversons were planning to appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
The dinosaurs found on the ranch include a T. rex found in 2013, a triceratops skull discovered in 2011 and the discovery in 2006 of a pair of dinosaurs that appeared to have been locked up in action when they died.
The T. rex has been sold for millions of dollars. The so-called dueling dinosaurs attracted an offer of $ 5.5 million at a 2014 auction, but failed to reach the reserve price of $ 6 million.
In a legal effort to clarify the ownership of the dueling dinosaurs before trying to sell them, the Murrays asked for a court order saying they had the fossils, sparking legal battle.
Source: AP News