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Wagenschein v. Ehlinger

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

July 11, 2019


          On appeal from the 267th District Court of DeWitt County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Contreras and Justices Longoria and Perkes


          Gregory T. Perkes Justice.

         This dispute concerns the construction of a mineral interest reservation included in a 1989 warranty deed. The trial court denied appellants' motion for summary judgment but granted appellees' motion for summary judgment. By two issues, appellants argue on appeal that (1) the reservation in the 1989 warranty deed created a tenancy in common as opposed to a joint tenancy; and (2) alternatively, if the interest created by the reservation in the 1989 deed is a joint tenancy with the right of survivorship, a conveyance to the Wagenschein Family Trust II (Trust II) severed the joint tenancy. Appellees, by a single cross-point, contend that appellants are barred from making their arguments under the doctrine of quasi estoppel. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Oswalt Edward Wagenschein and Marie Range Wagenschein owned a 241.69-acre tract of land located in DeWitt County, Texas. They had seven children: Viola Ehlinger, Erna W. Mueller, Victor H. Wagenschein, Clara Mae Binz, Paul E. Wagenschein, Frieda W. Buelter, and Norman O. Wagenschein (Wagenschein Heirs). Following their parents' deaths, the seven Wagenschein Heirs inherited the subject property and executed a warranty deed in 1989 conveying the surface and mineral estates to Harvey H. Mueller and Jane W. Mueller. The deed included the following reservation:

THERE IS HEREBY RESERVED AND EXCEPTED from this conveyance for Grantors and the survivor of Grantors, a reservation until the survivor's death, of an undivided one-half (1/2) of the royalty interest in all the oil, gas and other minerals that are in and under the property and that may be produced from it. Grantors and Grantors' successors will not participate in the making of any oil, gas and mineral lease covering the property, but will be entitled to one-half (1/2) of any bonus paid for any such lease and one-half (1/2) of any royalty, rental or shut-in gas well royalty paid under any such lease. The reservation contained in this paragraph will continue until the death of the last survivor of the seven (7) individuals referred to as Grantors in this deed.

         In 2006, the Muellers executed an oil, gas, and mineral lease with Trinity Energy Services, L.L.C., who then assigned the lease to Pioneer Natural Resources USA, Inc. (Pioneer). Clara died in 2009, leaving Dwight Binz[1] and appellant Carol Edwards as her heirs. In 2010, Pioneer drilled and began production on its first well on the property. The surviving Wagenschein Heirs each signed division orders, accepting and receiving their respective shares of what would have been Clara's interest.

         Norman died in 2011, leaving his children, appellees Vicki Wagenschein and Jane Crawford, as heirs. Paul died in 2012. However, prior to his passing, Paul conveyed his interest to appellants Kevin Wagenschein and Kim Gordon, who, in turn, conveyed that interest to the Trust II. Frieda died in 2014, leaving appellant Kenneth Buelter as her sole heir. After each death, Pioneer distributed the decedent's interest by signed division orders to the then-surviving Wagenschein Heirs. Like appellees, Pioneer interpreted the reservation as providing a joint tenancy with right of survivorship.

         In 2015, appellants filed their original petition for declaratory relief. Specifically, they sought a judicial declaration that:

the reservation in the Deed created in the Wagenschein Heirs, in equal shares as tenants in common, a life estate pur autre vie[2] in one-half (1/2) of the royalty, bonus, rental and shut-in payments under any existing or future oil and gas lease covering the property, to be enjoyed by the Wagenschein Heirs and their successors and assigns until the death of the last surviving Wagenschein Heir.

         They also sought reformation along the same lines and attorney fees. In their amended petition, appellants alternatively sought "a judicial declaration that even if the deed created a joint tenancy, the joint tenancy as to [Paul's] interest was severed by [Paul's conveyance]."

         Appellees subsequently filed their first amended original answer and counterclaim. In their pleading, they generally denied appellants' allegations and pleaded the affirmative defenses of estoppel, waiver, limitations, ratification, and unclean hands, unjust enrichment, or contribution. In addition, they counterclaimed for a declaration that:

the Pioneer interpretation of the deed is correct and that the surviving defendants own, collectively, 1/3 each of the reservation and that the reservation in question is held by defendants as joint tenants with the right of survivorship with the reservation to terminate and revert to grantees in the 1989 deed upon the death of the last of the original grantors to die.

         Appellants filed a traditional motion for summary judgment.[3] Appellants argued that (1) they are the successors to undivided interests in the royalty and bonus in the property that should have passed to them through inheritance and that (2) appellees wrongfully claimed such royalty and bonus interests are held in joint tenancy. Appellants sought a summary judgment declaring that the interests in royalty and bonus at issue in this case are inheritable in a tenancy in common.

         Appellees filed a response to appellants' motion for summary judgment and a cross-motion for summary judgment.[4] Appellees sought a summary judgment declaring that "the reservation in the deed in question creates a life estate in favor [of] the surviving grantors . . . ." They further contended that appellants are estopped from bringing their claims because ...

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