After years of court battles, a U.S. appeals court has ruled that dinosaur fossils discovered on a Montana ranch belong to the land owners.
Remains of a T-rex and triceratops were found on the ranch in 2013, as well as 2006 unearthing of a pair of dueling dinosaurs that died while engaged in battle with one another.
The T-rex was auctioned off to the tune of millions of dollars, while the battling dinosaurs received a bid of $5.5 million at in auction back in 2014, which didn’t meet the $6 million reserve price.
That auction is what triggered the legal proceedings into action, as Mary Ann and Life Murray pursued a court order to officially recognize their ownership of the dinosaur fossils.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision upholds a 2016 ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Watters of Billings, Montana that determined the unearthed dinosaur bones belong to the surface estate rather than the mineral state. In this case, the surface estate is owned by Mary Ann and Lige Murray.
Two-thirds of the mineral rights on property were owned by brothers Jerry and Bo Severson, who inherited the rights from their father.
A 2019 bill passed by the Montana Legislature decreed that, unless specifically reserved as part of a mineral estate, dinosaur fossils are covered by a property’s surface estate by default. Indeed, earlier in 2020 justices in Montana confirmed that dinosaur fossils are not recognized as being included with mineral estates.
“Because Mary Ann and Lige Murray are the undisputed owners of the surface estate here … the (Montana) Supreme Court’s decision requires a resolution in their favor,” Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas wrote on behalf of himself and 10 other members of the 9th Circuit.