Last week the Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Steadfast Financial v. Bradshaw, No. 13-0199. The case presents the court with another opportunity to grapple with an issue that Texas courts have struggled with since the court first addressed it in 1937 – what duty does the owner of the mineral estate owe to a non-participating royalty owner?
The term “non-participating royalty owner” is the name commonly given to a royalty interest in minerals created by a grant or reservation in a deed. “Non-participating” is really redundant; it means that the holder of the royalty estate has no right to lease the mineral estate or to receive any bonus for a lease. In fact, that is true of all royalty interests. A better name for this type of royalty interest might be “fee royalty interest,” to distinguish it from a royalty interest reserved by the mineral owner in an oil and gas lease.
The owner of a fee royalty interest, having no right to lease or to drill wells, is dependent on the owner of the mineral estate out of which his/her royalty interest must be paid; the royalty interest has no value unless the mineral interest is leased and wells are drilled. In recognition of this fact, court decisions have imposed a duty on the mineral owner to protect the royalty owner’s interest. How this duty is defined, and in what situations the duty is imposed, have been issues Texas courts have struggled with for many years. The cases that have addressed this issue over the years show how the common law develops — very slowly, and with varied results for the litigants involved.