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Ninth Circuit Splits on 'Dueling Dinosaurs'

By William Vogeler, Esq. on November 09, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

"Dueling Dinosaurs" is not a remake of "Deliverance," starring Burt Reynolds and Jon Voigt.

In the movie with the famous "dueling banjos," four friends battle wild mountain men while canoeing. It doesn't end well for at least two of them.

In Murray v. Bej Minerals, it doesn't end well for a couple of ranchers who were fighting over dinosaur fossils found under their property. The "dueling dinosaurs," and several property owners, were locked in combat.

$7 Million Fossils

An amateur paleontologist discovered the fossils on the Montana ranch in 2006. They were well-preserved and ultimately valued at $7 million.

Mary Ann and Lige Murray acquired sole title to the buried fossils when they purchased their ranch. That's what a trial judge said in their lawsuit.

However, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling. The appeals court said the prior owners, Jerry and Robert Severson, retained two-thirds of the mineral rights beneath the ranchers' property.

In a split decision, the appeals panel said the fossils had turned into minerals over time. Judge Mary Murguia disagreed with the majority.

"Dinosaurs Are Not Minerals"

She said the fossils were once-living vertebrates and not "mined in the traditional sense."

Fossils are not like other minerals, such as coal, gas, or oil, she said, noting it was a case of first impression.

"Collectively, these factors lead to the conclusion reached by the district court here -- that dinosaurs are not 'minerals' as that term is ordinarily understood," she said.

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