Defending Louisiana Environmental Litigation: Using Mineral Servitude Prescription Period
Written by Kristin Lausten
In New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana, claims with respect to environmental contamination and injury to real estate, or immovable property, can arise under Louisiana Revised Statutes 31:22 which states:
“The owner of a mineral servitude is under no obligation to exercise it. If he does, he is entitled to use only so much of the land as is reasonably necessary to conduct his operations. He is obligated, insofar as practicable, to restore the surface to its original condition at the earliest reasonable time.”
However, a recent case from the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that claims under La.R.S. 31:22 can be extinguished under the 10-year prescription for non-use of a mineral servitude. See Black River Crawfish Farms, LLC v. King, No. 17-672 (La. App., 3rd Cir. February 7, 2018).
As an aside, it is likely that La.R.S. § 30:29 applies to suits under § 31:22. Section 30:29 concerns procedures to be used for environmental remediation and uses the language “… arising from or alleging environmental damage, the provisions of this Section shall apply …” This likely means that § 30:29 will govern claims made under § 31:22.
In any event, here is what Black River Crawfish instructs.
Defending Louisiana Environmental Litigation: Black River Crawfish
In the Black River Crawfish case, the plaintiffs were the owners of 189 acres of land located in Concordia Parish, Louisiana. Back in the 1940s, this tract of land was part of a 1,406-acre parcel of land then called the Horseshoe Plantation owned by siblings Billy D. King, Jack A. King and Mary King Carpenter. In 1946, the siblings executed a mineral lease and oil wells began producing in 1953.
In 1957, Billy D. King transferred ownership of 320 acres of the plantation to Stella Calhoun, reserving a one-third mineral servitude in his favor over the 320-acre tract. Then, in 1988, Stella sold 189 acres of her 320-acre tract to the predecessor of Black River Crawfish, LLC but did not make any reservation of minerals or any assignment of personal rights. By this time, King had transferred his holdings into a Revocable Trust.
The facts were undisputed that, by 1990 at the latest, the oil wells were no longer producing. The last producing well was plugged and abandoned in 1989. Another well was drilled but it was a dry hole that was immediately plugged and abandoned in January 1990.
In February 2012, Black River Crawfish filed suit under La. R. Stat. § 31:22 against the King Trust and other defendants. As against the King Trust, Black River Crawfish sought restoration of the property by the owner of the mineral servitude. The King Trust was alleged to be the owner of the mineral servitude based on King’s reservation of mineral rights in the deed to Stella Calhoun.
The King Trust defended on several grounds including the ten-year prescription period based on non-use of a mineral servitude set forth in La.R.S. 31:27, which states in part: “A mineral servitude is extinguished by . . . prescription resulting from non-use for ten years.”
The trial court ruled in favor of the King Trust on these grounds. The Louisiana Court of Appeals affirmed.
Defending Louisiana Environmental Litigation: Legal Lessons
As the Louisiana courts have interpreted La.R.S. 31:27, after 10 years of non-use, a mineral servitude reverts to the owner of the surface rights. As such, under the facts of Black River Crawfish, in January 2000, the mineral rights that had been reserved by Billy D. King in 1957 were extinguished. Those mineral servitude reverted to Black River Crawfish, LLC — the owner of the surface rights and plaintiff in the case. At that point, La.R.S. 31:22 was not applicable to the situation since, as both the owner of the land and the minerals, the plaintiff could not be bound to render a performance to itself.
As can be seen by the case, the 10-year prescription period for non-use of a mineral servitude can be used under some circumstances to defeat claims being made for environmental contamination.
Defending Louisiana Environmental Litigation: Contact an Experienced Louisiana Toxic Tort and Environmental Defense Lawyer
Need assistance? Have questions? Contact Kristin M. Lausten. Our legal team defends toxic tort and environmental cases in both state and federal courts throughout Louisiana. We use state-of-the art technology and maintain relationships with a broad range of scientific and legal experts who are needed for defending environmental contamination cases.
In addition, we provide legal consultation and planning so that you can decrease your risks of being sued for torts related to toxic substances.
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Kristin M. Lausten
This article is provided as an educational service for general informational purposes only. The material does not constitute legal advice or rendering of professional services.