Texaco, Inc v. Short Pond v. Walden

Decision Date12 January 1982
Docket NumberNos. 80-965,80-1018,s. 80-965
Citation454 U.S. 516,70 L.Ed.2d 738,102 S.Ct. 781
PartiesTEXACO, INC., et al., Appellants, v. Louise F. SHORT et al. Eden H. POND, Edna H. Bobe and Consolidation Coal Company, Appellants, v. Ulysses G. WALDEN, Jr., et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

The Indiana Dormant Mineral Interests Act, more commonly known as the Mineral Lapse Act, provides that a severed mineral interest that is not used for a period of 20 years automatically lapses and reverts to the current surface owner of the property, unless the mineral owner prior to the end of the 20-year period or within a 2-year grace period after the effective date of the Act (September 2, 1971) files a statement of claim in the local county recorder's office. The "use" of a mineral interest sufficient to preclude its extinction includes actual or attempted production of the minerals, payment of rents or royalties, and payment of taxes. The statute contains one exception to the general rule: If an owner of 10 or more mineral interests in the same county files a statement of claim that inadvertently omits some of those interests, the omitted interests may be preserved by a supplemental filing made within 60 days of receiving notice of the lapse. Appellants whose unused mineral interests had lapsed upon expiration of the grace period under the Act, challenged the constitutionality of the Act in actions brought in Indiana state court. They claimed that under the Fourteenth Amendment the lack of prior notice of the lapse deprived them of property without due process of law, the statute effected a taking of property for public use without just compensation, and the exception for owners of 10 or more mineral interests denied them the equal protection of the law. They also contended that the statute constitutes an impairment of contracts in violation of the Contract Clause. The trial court declared the statute unconstitutional, but the Indiana Supreme Court reversed.

Held :

1. The State has the power to enact the kind of statute in issue, and in this instance has not exercised this power in an arbitrary manner. Each of the actions required to avoid an abandonment of a mineral interest furthers the legitimate state goals of encouraging mineral interest owners to develop such interests and of collecting property taxes. Pp. 525-530.

2. The Act does not take property without just compensation in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Since the State may treat as abandoned a mineral interest that has not been used for 20 years and for which no statement of claim has been filed, it follows that, after abandon- ment, the former owner retains no interest for which he may claim compensation. It is the owner's failure to make any use of the property—and not the State's action—that causes the lapse of the property right; there is no "taking" that requires compensation. P.530.

3. Nor does the Act unconstitutionally impair the obligation of contracts. Since appellant mineral owners did not execute any coal and oil leases until after the statutory lapse of their mineral rights, the statute cannot be said to impair a contract that did not exist at the time of its enactment. While appellants' right to enter such an agreement has been impaired, this right is a property, not a contract, right. P. 531.

4. The Act did not extinguish appellants' property without adequate notice in violation of their due process rights. Pp. 531-538.

(a) The 2-year grace period provided by the statute forecloses any argument that the statute is invalid because mineral owners may not have had an opportunity to become familiar with its terms. Property owners are charged with knowledge of relevant statutory provisions affecting the control or disposition of their property. Moreover, the greatest deference must be accorded to the judgment of state legislatures as to whether a statutory grace period provides an adequate opportunity for citizens to become familiar with a new law. Here, both the Indiana Legislature and the Indiana Supreme Court have concluded that the 2-year grace period was sufficient to allow property owners to familiarize themselves with the statute and to take appropriate action to protect existing interests. Pp. 531-533.

(b) Given appellants' presumed knowledge that their unused mineral interests would lapse unless they filed a statement of claim, appellants had no constitutional right to be advised that the 20-year period of nonuse was about to expire. Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 70 S.Ct. 652, 94 L.Ed. 865, distinguished. Since the State may impose on a mineral interest owner the burden of using that interest or filing a statement of claim, it follows that the State may impose on him the lesser burden of keeping informed of the use or nonuse of his own property. Pp. 533-538.

5. Since the statutory exception for owners of 10 or more mineral interests furthers the legitimate statutory purpose of encouraging multiple ownership as being more conducive to the actual production of mineral resources, and has no adverse impact on persons like appellants who own fewer mineral interests, the exception does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 538-540.

Ind., 406 N.E.2d 625, affirmed.

John L. Carroll, Evansville, Ind., for appellants.

Verner P. Partenheimer, Princeton, N. J., for appellees.

Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1971 the Indiana Legislature enacted a statute providing that a severed mineral interest that is not used for a period of 20 years automatically lapses and reverts to the current surface owner of the property, unless the mineral owner files a statement of claim in the local county recorder's office.1 The Indiana Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the statute. Ind., 406 N.E.2d 625 (1980). We noted probable jurisdiction, 450 U.S. 993, 101 S.Ct. 1693, 68 L.Ed.2d 192, and now affirm.

As the Indiana Supreme Court explained, the Mineral Lapse Act "puts an end to interests in coal, oil, gas or other minerals which have not been used for twenty years." 2 The statute provides that the unused interest shall be "extinguished" and that its "ownership shall revert to the then owner of the interest out of which it was carved." 3 The statute, which became effective on September 2, 1971, contained a 2-year grace period in which owners of mineral interests that were then unused and subject to lapse could preserve those interests by filing a claim in the recorder's office.4

The "use" of a mineral interest 5 that is sufficient to preclude its extinction includes the actual or attempted production of minerals, THE payment of rents or royalties, and any payment of taxes; 6 a mineral owner may also protect his interest by filing a statement of claim with the local recorder of deeds.7 The statute contains one exception to this general rule: if an owner of 10 or more interests in the same county files a statement of claim that inadvertently omits some of those interests, the omitted interests may be preserved by a supplemental filing made within 60 days of receiving actual notice of the lapse.8

The statute does not require that any specific notice be given to a mineral owner prior to a statutory lapse of a mineral estate. The Act does set forth a procedure, however, by which a surface owner who has succeeded to the ownership of a mineral estate pursuant to the statute may give notice that the mineral interest has lapsed.9

Two cases are consolidated in this appeal. The facts in each are stipulated. In No. 80-965, appellants include 11 parties who claim ownership of fractional mineral interests severed in 1942 and in 1944 from a 132-acre tract of land in Gibson County, Ind.; a 12th appellant is the lessee of oil and gas leases executed in 1976 and 1977 by the other appellants. The appellee is the surface owner of the 132-acre tract from which the appellants' mineral interests were carved. The parties stipulated that the appellants had not used the mineral interests for 20 years and had not filed a statement of claim within 2 years of the effective date of the statute. Thus, under the terms of the Dormant Mineral Interests Act, the mineral interests automatically lapsed on September 2, 1973, when the 2-year grace period expired. On April 28, 1977, appellee gave notice that the mineral interests had lapsed.10 Appellants responded by filing statements of claim in the Office of the Recorder of Gibson County. Thereafter, appellee filed this action, seeking a declaratory judgment that the rights of the mineral interest owners had lapsed and were extinguished by reason of the Dormant Mineral Interests Act.

In No. 80-1018, the severed mineral estate was created on March 1, 1954. On that date, appellants Pond and Bobe conveyed land to appellees by a warranty deed that contained a reservation of the mineral estate. On June 17, 1976, Pond and Bobe executed a coal mining lease with appellant Consolidated Coal Co. The parties stipulated that, for a 20-year period following the creation of the mineral estate, appellants did not use the interest or file a statement of claim in the Recorder's Office. Thus, on March 1, 1974, a date more than two years after the effective date of the Dormant Mineral Interests Act, a statutory lapse occurred. On March 4, 1977, appellees gave notice of the lapse, both by letter to the appellants and by publication in the Princeton Daily Clarion. The parties jointly filed the instant lawsuit on January 12, 1978, to resolve their conflicting claims to the mineral rights.

In each case it is agreed that if the statute is valid, appellants' mineral interests have lapsed because of their failure to produce minerals, pay taxes, or file a statement of claim within the statutory period. In neither case does the agreed statement of facts indicate whether any of the appellants was aware of the enactment of the Mineral Lapse Act, or of...

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