Van Buren County, Arkansas surface owners lose appeal on 1984 mineral quiet title order

In XTO v. Thacker, 2015 Ark. App. 203, some Van Buren County, Arkansas surface owners filed a quiet title suit in 1984 naming one of two original 1929 Van Buren County mineral deed grantees as defendants.  In the 1984 Arkansas quiet title suit, the surface owners alleged that the grantor of the mineral deed was not the record owner of the property and that the mineral deed was therefore invalid.

In usual fashion, the surface owner’s quiet title suit attorney filed an affidavit reciting that whereabouts of the named Arkansas mineral owner defendant was unknown after making a “diligent inquiry.”  The affidavit did not detail the efforts of the lawyer’s efforts to locate the mineral owner.   The clerk issued a warning order based on the affidavit, and the warning order ran in the local paper for four weeks.

Of course, the mineral owner defendant did not appear to answer the Arkansas mineral quiet title complaint.  The court entered an order quieting title in the surface owner defendants.  In 2010, after the development of the Fayetteville Shale in Van Buren County, Arkansas, the absent Van Buren County, Arkansas mineral owner learned of the 1984 quiet title decree and sought to set aside the court’s order of 26 years earlier.

At trial, the mineral owners and their production company lessee (XTO) lost.  The trial court ruled that the plaintiffs in the 1984 case complied with the rules governing notice in quiet title suits that were in effect at the time.

The Arkansas Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order finding that the plaintiffs properly served the absent mineral owner.  Specifically, the rules in effect at the time of the 1984 required a recitation of the efforts employed to locate the missing mineral owner.  In this case, the affidavit merely recited that the absent mineral owner was not found after “diligent inquiry.”

In addition, the Arkansas Court of Appeals found that the 1984 case did not employ every method of notice required.  A newspaper warning order in a civil suit is a general requirement.  In an Arkansas quiet title lawsuit, there is a specific statutory requirement found in Ark. Code Ann. 18-60-503.  The statute requires a specific type of newspaper notice to run for four weeks with due proof of publication filed in the case.  This was absent in the 1984 quiet title suit.

When pursuing a quiet title lawsuit in Arkansas, it is vitally important to follow rules governing notice in the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure to the letter.  In addition, a plaintiff must follow the statutes governing Arkansas quiet title suits in general found in the Arkansas Property Code (Title 18).  When choosing an Arkansas quiet title lawyer for mineral interests or surface interests, make sure the quiet title attorney has knowledge of all the relevant statutes and does a thorough job of locating and identifying possible defendants.

Mark Robinette is an Arkansas lawyer and attorney providing quiet title suit services in all 72 Arkansas counties including the Fayetteville Shale counties of White County, Cleburne County, Van Buren County, Faulkner County, Conway County, and Pope County.   Arkansas lawyer Mark Robinette also represents persons with quiet title suits in the South Arkansas oil patch including Nevada County, Ouachita County, Miller County, Lafayette County, Columbia County, Union County, and Calhoun County.

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