Face Challenges Confidently

102 Ely v. Briley

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

Richard F. Brown

The following is not a legal opinion. You should consult your attorney if the case may be of significance to you.
Ely v. Briley, 959 S.W.2d 723 (Tex. App.—Austin 1998, no writ) considers whether a severed riparian mineral interest is subject to accretion. In a 1947 deed, Grantor reserved “an undivided one-half (½) interest in and to all of the oil, gas and other mineral [sic] in and under the herein described property.” Since 1947, the conveyed tract has increased in size by approximately 266 acres due to accretion by a bordering river. Grantee claimed that Grantee was entitled to all mineral royalties from the 266 acres added to the tract due to accretion. Grantee argued that (1) a severed riparian mineral interest was not subject to accretion, or alternatively, (2) the 1947 deed limited Grantor’s interest to the boundaries as they existed in 1947 because of the reservation language used (“in and under the herein described property”). The trial court held that Grantor’s reserved mineral interest extended to the 266 acres added by accretion.
Held: affirmed. Texas recognizes the doctrine of accretion, by which the owner of riparian land gains title to land that accretes to his property. The Court also noted that under Texas law, a mineral interest is a property interest regardless of whether or not the mineral estate is severed from the surface estate. In a deed that uses a shore as a boundary, the mineral estate boundary, just like the surface estate boundary, may only be determined with regard to the river’s shore. In a deed that uses the shore of a body of water as a boundary, a severed riparian mineral interest is subject to accretion. This holding applies regardless of the 1947 deed reservation language. The words “in and under” the property are words of description and not of limitation. The Court noted that an unqualified reservation of the mineral estate reserves the entire bundle of property rights which includes the right to execute leases, receive bonuses, rentals and royalties. Hence, an unqualified reservation of the riparian mineral estate reserves the right to future accretion. The 1947 deed reserved all rights to the mineral estate. Because the right to increase by accretion is part of the bundle of riparian property rights, it follows that the Grantor retained that right with all of the other bundled interests.
Deeds describing a tract by reference to the shore of a body of water present inherent difficulties, because bodies of water move over time. If a tract slowly increases in size by accretion, the owner of that tract acquires a larger tract, while someone else suffers the loss of equivalent acreage. This case is significant because it is the first decision holding that a severed mineral interest enjoys the same accretion rights as the owner of a tract in which the minerals have not been severed.