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Janacek v. Marathon Oil Co.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

April 10, 2019

Beatrice J. Janacek JARZOMBEK, Phillip Janacek, Ben J. Janacek, Kathryn M. Janacek Vajdos, Lawrence J. Janacek, Margaret R. Janacek Ryan, Sister Rebecca Janacek, and Timothy E. Janacek, Appellants
v.
MARATHON OIL COMPANY, Don Kuhnel, Patricia Kuhnel, Jason Swafford, and Charlene Swafford, Appellees

          From the 218th Judicial District Court, Karnes County, Texas Trial Court No. 18-01-00016-CVK Honorable Stella Saxon, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice Liza A. Rodriguez, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PATRICIA O. ALVAREZ, JUSTICE

         In this deed construction case, Appellants argue the deed's "subject to," "for all purposes," and "heirs and assigns" (rather than "heirs or assigns") language reserved the possibility of reverter to the grantors. We conclude the deed's plain language, when read in light of Texas case law, does not support Appellants' proposed construction. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background

         This case involves two deeds: a partition deed in 1965 and a general warranty deed in 1976. The language of both deeds is relevant. The 1976 Deed is of primary concern, and it references the 1965 Deed.

         A. 1965 Deed

         In 1965, Ben and Olga Janacek purchased seventy acres of land from Olga's parents' estate via a partition deed (the 1965 Deed). Ben and Olga wanted to purchase the property in fee simple, but they could not afford to buy out the entire mineral estate. Thus, the 1965 Deed conveyed the executive interest, lease money, delay rentals, and bonus money to Ben and Olga, but it partitioned "the royalty interest in and to the oil, gas and other minerals in and under the land" by reserving an "undivided one-fifth interest" to Olga and each of her four siblings. The royalty reservation would end after a term of twenty years unless there was ongoing production in paying quantities. The possibility of reverter was conveyed to Ben and Olga.

         B. 1976 Deed

         In 1976, Ben and Olga conveyed the seventy acres of land and some or all of their mineral interests to Max and Bennye Swafford. The parties do not dispute the surface estate conveyance, but they disagree on what mineral interests the 1976 Deed conveyed.

         The 1976 Deed has eight major paragraphs. The underlines below show the language the Janaceks emphasize. The first three paragraphs identify the grantors, the grantees, and the consideration. The fourth paragraph describes the real property that is conveyed.

         The fifth paragraph states as follows:

Such conveyance is subject, however, to all mineral conveyances, mineral reservations, oil, gas and other mineral leases, royalty conveyances, or reservations, easements, ordinances and rights-of-way of record in the office of the County Clerk of Karnes County, Texas.
The sixth paragraph consists of an introduction and three numbered subparagraphs:
In addition to the above exceptions this conveyance is subject to the following:
1. Right-of-way Easement . . . .
2. Road Deed . . . .
3. Four-fifths (4/5ths) royalty interest, the royalties, bonuses, rentals and all other rights described in [the 1965 Deed], reference to which instrument is here made for all purposes, together with all rights, express or implied in and to the property covered by this policy arising out of or connected with said interests and conveyance.
The seventh paragraph provides the warranty:
TO HAVE AND TO HOLD the above described premises, subject to the above set forth exceptions and reservations, together with all and singular the rights and appurtenances thereto and in anywise belonging unto the said MAX E. SWAFFORD and wife, BENNYE SWAFFORD, their heirs, and assigns, forever; and we do hereby bind ourselves, our heirs, executors and administrators to WARRANT and FOREVER DEFEND, subject to the above set forth exceptions and reservations, all and singular the said premises unto the said MAX E. SWAFFORD and wife, BENNYE SWAFFORD, their heirs and assigns against every person whomsoever lawfully claiming or to claim the same or any part thereof.
The eighth paragraph pertains to the vendor's lien and does not affect the analysis.

         C. Later Conveyances

         In 1999, after other conveyances, the seventy acres were divided. The present owners are Donald and Patricia Kuhnel, who own 37.8 acres, and Jason and Charlene Swafford, who own the remaining 32.2 acres. The 1999 deeds are not in dispute.

         D. ...


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