Law Review: Dinosaurs ruled fossils … like your columnist |

Law Review: Dinosaurs ruled fossils … like your columnist

A couple of years ago we wrote a column about some dinosaur bones found in Montana. In that court case the Federal Court of Appeals ruled that the dinosaur bones were “minerals.” This Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals En Banc overturned that decision.


In 2006, an amateur paleontologist, nicknamed the Dinosaur Cowboy, uncovered the well-preserved fossils of the “Dueling Dinosaurs” on a Montana ranch in an area known as Hell Creek. A year earlier the Seversons, the ranch owners, had sold their ranch and one-third of the mineral rights under the ranch to the Murrays, reserving for themselves two-thirds of any “minerals” found in, on and under the ranch.


More to the point, soon after the discovery of the Dueling Dinosaurs, there were other fossils discovered on the ranch, including a nearly intact Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, one of only 12 ever found. T-Rex was sold to a Dutch museum in 2014 for several million dollars.

A Triceratops foot was found and sold for $20,000 and a Triceratops skull is on the market for $250,000.

The Dueling Dinosaurs have been appraised at between $7 – $9 million. Who needs oil when you have dinosaurs? The issue in the case was whether the dinosaur bones were “minerals”. If not, they below to the surface estate, the ranch-owning Murrays.


The Trial Court ruled for the Murrays, the three-judge Court of Appeals overturned and ruled for the owners of the minerals under the ranch with this quote:

“Once upon a time, in a place now known as Montana, dinosaurs roamed the land. On a fateful day, some 66 million years ago, two such creatures, a 22-foot-long theropod and a 28-foot-long ceratopsian, engaged in mortal combat. While history has not recorded the circumstances surrounding this encounter, the remnants of these Creteceous species, interlocked in combat, became entombed under a pile of sandstone. That was then … this is now.”


The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing En Banc overturned the Court of Appeals and ruled for the Murrays who own the ranch and surface rights, clarifying that under Montana law dinosaur fossils do not constitute minerals so the owner of the mineral rights under the ranch loses.

As an old fossil myself, I like this opinion.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at or

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