Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Seeco, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

October 5, 2016

UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY APPELLANT
v.
SEECO, INC., AND CORNELIUS TYUS, ET AL. APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE FAULKNER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 23CV-11-653] HONORABLE TROY B. BRASWELL, JR., JUDGE

          Friday, Eldredge & Clark, LLP, by: Bruce B. Tidwell and Jamie Huffman Jones, for appellant. Daily & Woods, P.L.L.C., by: Thomas A. Daily and C. Michael Daily, for appellee Seeco, Inc.

          Adkisson & Wilcox, LLP, by: Beau Wilcox, for appellees Cornelius Tyus, et al.

          KENNETH S. HIXSON, Judge

         Appellant Union Pacific Railroad Company (Union Pacific) appeals from the Faulkner County Circuit Court's judgment and order filed on September 18, 2015, and agreed final order filed on November 5, 2015, finding that the mineral rights in question were owned in fee simple by separate appellees, individual members of the Tyus family (collectively the Tyus family). On appeal, Union Pacific contends that the circuit court erred in granting appellee SEECO, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment and that this court should reverse and remand for the circuit court to enter a judgment confirming that it is the rightful owner of the mineral rights on the property at issue. We disagree and affirm.

         Appellee SEECO, Inc. (SEECO), filed a complaint for interpleader and declaratory judgment. In its complaint, SEECO sought to interplead royalties from the production of natural gas on certain real property in Faulkner County, Arkansas, and for the circuit court to determine the rightful owner of the mineral rights and the royalty proceeds.[1] Both the Tyus family and Union Pacific filed answers asserting respective ownership of the mineral rights.[2] SEECO subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that the material facts were undisputed and that the Tyus family was entitled to the mineral rights. Union Pacific responded to the motion for summary judgment and also filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, alleging that Union Pacific was the owner of the mineral rights. The Tyus family filed a response to SEECO's motion for summary judgment, stating that it concurred with SEECO's motion that the Tyus family was entitled to the mineral rights and attached the affidavit of Wes Tyus in support thereof.

         The undisputed facts presented by the parties are as follows. The property description of the mineral interest in question is NW/4 of the NE/4 of Section 19, Township 8, Range 13 West in Faulkner County, Arkansas. The entire property was initially transferred by a recorded document dated on November 17, 1857, from the United States Secretary of the Interior to the State of Arkansas for the benefit of the Little Rock & Fort Smith Railroad. Union Pacific explained that it had become the successor in interest to Little Rock & Fort Smith Railroad after a series of various mergers over the years.[3] Clearly, Union Pacific was the record title owner of the property commencing in 1857.

         The first recorded deed that mentions the Tyus family is a warranty deed that purports to convey the property in its entirety from R.B. and C.E. Tyus to J.L. and Girtha Tyus in 1941. Subsequent to 1941, there are several deeds purporting to transfer ownership of the property among the various Tyus family members. The Tyus family's subsequent purported chain of title from 1941 to the present was uninterrupted. It is undisputed that there is not an executed, filed deed transferring ownership from Union Pacific to the Tyus family. However, Union Pacific did concede the following in its summary-judgment response brief concerning the 1941 deed: "[t]he Tyus family may have begun living on the Property and acquired some record title interest to the surface through their actual use."

         While there were no executed and filed deeds between 1857 and 1941, there was some evidence concerning activity to the property records between 1936 and 1941. Prior to 1936, the property in its entirety was assessed to Union Pacific by the Faulkner County Real Estate Assessor. In 1936, the county-assessment records show a line marking through the name "Union Pacific" as owner and the name "R.B. Tyus" handwritten onto the assessment record for the property. There were no other notes, additions, or deletions to the assessment records for 1936. The Faulkner County assessment records from 1937 to 1958 were not included in our record.

         The next pertinent assessment in the county records is from 1958. In 1958, the Oil, Gas, Mineral Royalty Interest book from Faulkner County indicates that "Union Pacific" was the owner of the mineral interest on the property. No other notes, additions, or deletions are found in the 1958 book. Our record does not reflect any other assessments between 1959 and 1967. The next pertinent record is found in the 1968 Oil, Gas, Mineral Royalty Interest book, which again indicates that Union Pacific was the owner of the mineral rights. There are no assessment records between 1969 and 1990. In 1990, the Oil, Gas, Mineral Royalty Interest book again indicates that Union Pacific was the owner of the mineral rights, and a similar entry appears eight years later in 1998. In short, from 1936 through 2014, a period of seventy-eight years, the assessment records from Faulkner County indicate that Union Pacific was the owner of the mineral interest for four separate and indiscriminate years.

         Again, while there were no executed and recorded deeds from Union Pacific to the Tyus family, Union Pacific argued that in 1938, there was a lost deed between Union Pacific and the Tyus family. Union Pacific contends that this 1938 lost deed transferred ownership of the surface rights to the Tyus family but specifically reserved the mineral rights to Union Pacific, and therefore, Union Pacific remains the owner of the severed mineral interests. As support, Union Pacific submitted an affidavit of Matthew G. Kozisek, an employee of Union Pacific. Kozisek explained that in his research he had uncovered some documents from January 1938 and found a blank, unsigned, and unrecorded deed transferring the surface rights of the property to R.B. and C.E. Tyus and reserving the mineral rights to Union Pacific.[4] In his affidavit, Kozisek further explained that it was standard procedure for the railroad to sell land through a purchase contract that included several installment payments. Once the buyer had paid the required installment payments, the land commissioner would then execute a deed granting the surface property to the purchaser, retaining the mineral interest with the railroad, and the purchaser would be responsible to file the executed deed with the circuit clerk. It is undisputed by the parties that this 1938 prepared deed (i.e. the "lost deed") was unsigned by the parties and not filed of record in the real estate records of Faulkner County.

         The only other pertinent evidence proffered by Union Pacific concerning title to the property was that Union Pacific offered two redemption deeds that were conveyed in 2004 to Union Pacific[5] as a direct result of its payment of delinquent ad valorem taxes for 2000- 2002 for the mineral rights to the property.

         In its motion for summary judgment, SEECO argued that the Tyus family had been in uninterrupted and continuous possession of the property for over seventy years and that there was no evidence of a mineral severance in favor of Union Pacific or its predecessor. Additionally, SEECO contended that although redemption deeds had been issued, the deeds were only evidence of a tax payment and did not vest title.

         The Tyus family attached an affidavit to its response to SEECO's motion for summary judgment to support their contention that they owned the mineral rights. In the affidavit, Wes Tyus stated that he was familiar with the property and that his family had been in exclusive possession of the property "well in excess of the seven-year adverse possession period . . . and in fact, the Tyus family has owned this property for many decades." Additionally, ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.