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Dinosaur Fossils Belong to Surface Landowners Rather than Mineral Owners

Dinosaur Fossils Belong to Surface Landowners Rather than Mineral Owners

Back in January I brought you the story of a Montana legal dispute over the ownership of dinosaur fossils.

Ranch owners discovered two well-preserved dinosaur fossils on their land and had found a possible buyer for the fossils. The ranchers owned the surface land, but only one-third of the mineral rights.

The owners of the other two-thirds of the mineral rights claimed the fossils were minerals and that they should be entitled to their share of any proceeds.

A trial court found for the landowner before an appellate court found for the mineral owner. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, re-hearing the case en banc, then asked the Montana Supreme Court to weigh in via certified question.

The Montana Supreme Court ultimately found in favor of the surface landowners and determined fossils should not be considered part of the mineral interest. Scientists applauded the decision as it would seem to make the continued process of obtaining permission to excavate and display fossils easier. Scientists worried that if the fossils were to be considered minerals it would make it much harder to sell or donate such finds for public viewing and, instead, more fossils would end up in private collections.

The dinosaur fossils at issue in this case are lined up for a sale to a museum here in the United States.

The case is only binding legal precedent in Montana, but should be viewed and guidance for other courts who might view the issued.


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