RAHLEK, LTD. ET AL., Appellants/Cross-Appellees
ROBERT G. WELLS ET AL., Appellees/Cross-Appellants
Appeal from the 42nd District Court Coleman County, Texas,
Trial Court Cause No. 5951
consists of: Bailey, C.J., Stretcher, J., and Wright, S.C.J.
appeal primarily involves a dispute regarding the
interpretation of a warranty deed dated July 6, 2006 (the
2006 Deed). The parties' dispute centers on whether the
grantors, Rahlek, Ltd. and Eugenia Harris Campbell, conveyed
to the grantee, Lake Phantom Acres, L.P., only a fraction of
the grantors mineral and royalty interests on all new
production or whether the grantors conveyed the entirety of
their mineral and royalty interests on all new production.
After considering competing summary judgment motions, the
trial court ruled that the deed was unambiguous and construed
it to convey the entirety of the grantors' mineral and
royalty interests on all new production. The trial court then
held a bench trial on damages, affirmative defenses, and
attorney's fees and rendered a final judgment.
issues, Appellants-Rahlek, Ltd., Eugenia Harris Campbell, and
her four children (the successors of Campbell's
interest)-challenge the trial court's final judgment in
favor of Appellees-Lake Phantom Acres, L.P. and the
successors of Lake Phantom's interest, which includes
Ricky Grubbs. Specifically, Appellants contend that the trial
court erred when it (1) incorrectly construed the 2006 Deed;
(2) denied Rahlek's counterclaim for unjust enrichment
against Grubbs; (3)permitted Grubbs to bring an
unjust-enrichment counterclaim against Campbell's four
children (the Campbell Children); and (4) denied the Campbell
Children's affirmative defenses of waiver and estoppel.
In Appellants' fifth issue, they request us to remand the
issue of attorney's fees if the trial court incorrectly
construed the 2006 Deed.
Grubbs also cross-appealed. In his sole cross-issue, Grubbs
contends that the trial court erred when it held that Section
16.069 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code did not
apply to save Grubbs's otherwise time-barred
overrule Appellants' first and fourth issues, and we do
not reach Issues Two, Three, and Five. We also sustain
Appellee/Cross-Appellant Grubbs's sole cross-issue.
Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse and remand in
6, 2006, Rahlek, Ltd. and Eugenia Harris Campbell conveyed
the property and certain mineral and royalty interests they
owned in and under the property to Lake Phantom Acres, L.P.
by a warranty deed with a vendor's lien. At the time of
this conveyance, Rahlek and Campbell collectively owned the
surface and one-quarter (1/4) of the minerals and royalties
in and under the property. The other three-quarters (3/4) of
the mineral and royalty interest under the property is not
relevant to this case.
the execution of the 2006 Deed, Lake Phantom subdivided the
property into multiple tracts and conveyed its interest to
multiple parties, who in turn, made similar conveyances to
others. On September 30, 2014, some of these subsequent
property owners, including Robert G. Wells and his wife
(collectively, the original Plaintiffs), filed a declaratory
judgment action against Rahlek and Campbell, seeking a
declaration as to what interests the grantors actually
conveyed in the 2006 Deed.
like Lake Phantom, had also conveyed her interests in the
property after the execution of the 2006 Deed. She conveyed
all the mineral and royalty interests she owned in the
property to her four children-Archibald R. Campbell III,
Douglas M. Campbell, Eugenia H. Campbell, and John H.
Campbell-in equal shares. On March 9, 2015, the Campbell
Children joined the lawsuit by filing a plea in intervention.
The Campbell Children countersued for declaratory judgment,
similarly asking the trial court to interpret the deed, but
in their favor.
of their plea in intervention, the Campbell Children also
joined several other parties who likewise had an interest in
the property as a result of subsequent conveyances by Lake
Phantom (collectively, Defendants in Intervention). Grubbs is
one of the Defendants in Intervention. In 2008, Lake Phantom
sold the property and all of the mineral interests it owned
under the property to Grubbs. Grubbs subdivided the property
into two tracts: the Grubbs "A" Lease Tract and the
Grubbs "D" Lease Tract (collectively, the Grubbs
Lease Tracts). Both of these tracts were originally part of
the property conveyed in the 2006 Deed.
response to the Campbell Children's plea in intervention,
Grubbs filed a counterclaim in his original answer against
the Campbell Children alleging, among other claims, unjust
enrichment. According to Grubbs, the Campbell Children
were wrongfully paid royalties from production on the Grubbs
"A" Lease Tract because he owned the entirety of
the one-quarter (1/4) royalty interest under the
tract. The record reflects that the statute of
limitations barred this counterclaim. However, Grubbs argued
that the counterclaim was nonetheless authorized under
Section 16.069 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.
later filed its own unjust-enrichment counterclaim against
Grubbs. Rahlek argued that Grubbs wrongfully received
royalties that Rahlek was entitled to.
the parties filed competing traditional motions for summary
judgment, the trial court granted partial summary judgment in
favor of Appellees (the original Plaintiffs and Defendants in
Intervention). The trial court concluded that the deed was
unambiguous and construed it to convey the entirety of the
grantors' mineral and royalty interests on all new
production and to reserve "all current oil and gas
production." The trial court also denied Rahlek's
unjust-enrichment counterclaim and held that Section 16.069
did not revive Grubbs's time-barred counterclaim. The
trial court then held a bench trial on damages, affirmative
defenses, and attorney's fees. It ultimately rendered
final judgment in favor of Appellees, awarding damages in
accordance with its findings, and declined to award
attorney's fees to either party on appeal. This appeal
Appellants' first issue, they contend that the trial
court erred when it granted Appellees' traditional motion
for summary judgment because the trial court erroneously
interpreted the 2006 Deed. Specifically, Appellants assert
that the trial court erred when it held that the deed was
unambiguous and construed it to convey the entirety of the
grantors' mineral and royalty interests in and under the
property to Lake Phantom.
review a summary judgment de novo. Provident Life &
Acc. Ins. Co. v. Knott, 128 S.W.3d 211, 215 (Tex. 2003).
In doing so, we consider all the evidence in the light most
favorable to the nonmovant, indulge all reasonable inferences
in favor of the nonmovant, and determine whether the movant
proved that there were no genuine issues of material fact and
that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Nixon v. Mr. Prop. Mgmt. Co., 690 S.W.2d 546, 548
(Tex. 1985). When competing traditional motions for summary
judgment are filed, and one is granted and the other denied,
we must review all issues presented and render the judgment
the trial court should have rendered. Comm'rs Court
of Titus Cty. v. Agan, 940 S.W.2d 77, 81 (Tex. 1997).
determine whether the trial court erred in its interpretation
of the 2006 Deed, the first issue we must address is whether
the deed is ambiguous. The question of whether a deed is
ambiguous is a question of law for the court. See
ConocoPhillips Co. v. Koopmann, 547 S.W.3d 858, 874
(Tex. 2018). Our primary goal when construing a deed is to
ascertain the true intention of the parties as expressed
within the "four corners" of the instrument.
See Luckel v. White, 819 S.W.2d 459, 461 (Tex.
1991). The four-corners rule requires the court to ascertain
the intent of the parties solely from all of the language in
the deed. Wenske v. Ealy, 521 S.W.3d 791, 794 (Tex.
2017) (citing Luckel, 819 S.W.2d at 461). The intent
that governs is not the intent that the parties meant but
failed to express but, rather, the intent that is expressed.
Luckel, 819 S.W.2d at 462. Additionally, we must
strive to "harmonize all parts of the deed" and
construe it "to give effect to all of its
provisions." Id. When different parts of a deed
appear to be contradictory or inconsistent, we must attempt
to construe the instrument so that no provision is rendered
ambiguity does not arise simply because the parties advance
conflicting interpretations. Endeavor Energy Res., L.P.
v. Discovery Operating, Inc., 554 S.W.3d 586, 601 (Tex.
2018). Rather, only when a deed remains susceptible to two or
more reasonable interpretations, after the court applies the
applicable rules of interpretation, is the deed ambiguous.
See ConocoPhillips, 547 S.W.3d at 874. If a deed is
worded in such a way that it can be given a certain or
definite legal meaning, then the deed is not ambiguous.
See Endeavor, 554 S.W.3d at 601.
deeds are construed to confer upon the grantee the greatest
estate that the terms of the instrument will allow. Lott
v. Lott, 370 S.W.2d 463, 465 (Tex. 1963). In other
words, a deed will pass whatever interest the grantor has in
the land, unless it contains language showing a clear
intention to grant a lesser estate. See Sharp v.
Fowler, 252 S.W.2d 153, 154 (Tex. 1952). Thus, unless
the deed contains reservations or exceptions that reduce the
estate conveyed, a warranty deed will pass all of the estate
owned by the grantor at the time of the conveyance.
Cockrell v. Tex. Gulf Sulphur Co., 299 S.W.2d 672,
675 (Tex. 1956).
reservations and exceptions in deeds must be clear and
specific. We will not find "reservations by
implication." Perryman v. Spartan Tex. Six Capital
Partners, Ltd., 546 S.W.3d 110, 119 (Tex. 2018) (quoting
Sharp, 252 S.W.2d at 154). "A reservation of
minerals to be effective must be by clear language."
Id. (quoting Sharp, 252 S.W.2d at 154).
Similarly, exceptions, which generally are strictly construed
against the grantor, must identify, with reasonable
certainty, the property to be excepted from the larger
conveyance. Combest v. Mustang Minerals, LLC, 502
S.W.3d 173, 179-180 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2016, pet.
2006 deed lists Rahlek and Campbell as the
"Grantor" and Lake Phantom as the
"Grantee." It is undisputed that together Rahlek
and Campbell owned all of the surface estate and that each
owned an undivided one-eighth (1/8) interest in the mineral
and royalties under the property (i.e., they each owned
one-half (1/2) of the collective one-fourth (1/4) interest in
minerals and royalties). The deed is fairly short and
contains the following provisions in the order they appear:
1680.21 acres of land in Coleman County, Texas being out of
the John Sanders Survey 162, Abstract 594, said 1680.21 acres
being that tract of land described in deed from John W.
Harris to Eugenia Harris Campbell and Joan Harris Kelso dated
August 4, 2000, and recorded in Volume 698, Page 94, Coleman
County Deed ...