WILLISTON A Minneapolis law firm has filed a suit in Williams County District Court in Williston on behalf of four groups of mineral rights owners in North Dakota, alleging the state is unlawfully taking their oil payments from riverbed land.
Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P. filed the suit March 6 and are seeking class-action status.
Plaintiffs in the case are Stanford A. Reep and Amy Reep, the Stockman Family Mineral Trust, the Charles and Ruth Patch Trust and the Florence E. Irwin Family Mineral Trust, including Loren Irwin. according to the complaint.
Defendants in the case, according to the document, are the state of North Dakota, North Dakota Board of University and School Lands and Lance D. Gaebe, commissioner of the N.D. Trust Lands Department.
Jan Conlin and Richard Allyn, attorneys with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, said the 50-mile area involved in the suit is between the North Dakota/Montana border and the Williston area of the Missouri River. Conlin is formerly of Williston.
The plaintiffs claim actions by the North Dakota Board of University and School Lands, the State of North Dakota and the commissioner of the Trust Lands Department have deprived them of their mineral interests without just compensation in North Dakota. They allege it is a violation of both the U.S. Constitution and the North Dakota Constitution, as well as North Dakota eminent domain statutes.
According to information from the Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi law firm, under North Dakota property law dating back to territorial times, private owners of land along rivers and lakes throughout the state take rights in that land to the low water mark. Individuals have purchased mineral interests in land above the low water mark of rivers, lakes, and other waters in North Dakota with the understanding that they own those mineral interests.
According to the suit, as it has become evident in recent years that minerals, such as oil, exist in some of those lands, and as techniques like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have made access to those minerals more cost-effective, the State of North Dakota and the North Dakota Board of University and School Lands have wrongfully asserted absolute title to those privately owned mineral interests in land along rivers and lakes in North Dakota between the low water mark and the high water mark.
The Board of University and School Lands commissioned studies to delineate the ordinary high water mark, and have issued leases to private companies for extraction of oil below its delineation, regardless of the private ownership of mineral interests in those same lands. The suit claims that in doing so, the N.D. Board of University and School Lands has received millions of dollars from leasing mineral interests it does not own.
Conlin said at an appropriate time in the case they will request the judge to certify the suit as a class-action lawsuit.
Liz Brocker, a spokeswoman for the N.D. Attorney General's Office in Bismarck, said they do not have any comments on the lawsuit at this time.