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Benson v. Family Tree Corp., Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 7, 2018

JOHN BENSON, Plaintiff,
v.
FAMILY TREE CORP., INC., et al. Defendants.

          John Benson, pro se.

          John A. Markert, Larson King, LLP, and Nicholas C. Grant, Ebeltoft. Sickler. Lawyers PLLC, Counsel for Defendants Family Tree Corporation, Inc. and Desert Partners IV, L.P.

          MEMORANDUM OF LAW & ORDER

          Michael J. Davis Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Family Tree Corporation and Desert Partners IV, L.P.'s Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 15] and Plaintiff John Benson's Motion for a Judgment on the Pleadings [Docket Nos. 64-65]. The Court heard oral argument on February 22, 2018. Because the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendants Family Tree Corporation and Desert Partners IV, L.P., they are dismissed as defendants in the action. The Court does not reach Defendants' multiple alternative arguments for dismissal.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         The Complaint and relevant public documents describe a detailed and extensive history regarding the parties, property title at issue, and the years of previous litigation. For the purpose of analyzing the motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the Court provides only an abbreviated description of the facts.

         1. The Relevant Parties

         Plaintiff John Benson is a Minnesota resident. (Compl. ¶ 1.) Elmer and Frances Benson were his grandparents. (Id.)

         Defendant Family Tree Corporation (“Family Tree”) is a Wyoming corporation with its principal place of business in Lakewood, Colorado. (Dykes Aff. ¶¶ 3, 4.) It buys and sells real property mineral interests and participates in oil and gas wells. (Id. ¶ 7.) It has never had an office in Minnesota; has never employed persons in Minnesota; has never owned any property in Minnesota; and has never advertised in Minnesota. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.)

         When Family Tree identifies owners of real property mineral interests, it sends them a letter expressing Family Tree's interest. (Dykes Aff. ¶ 8.) The mineral rights owner then decides whether or not to respond to Family Tree and enter into negotiations. (Id. ¶ 9.) Family Tree has never bought or sold mineral interests in Minnesota. (Id. ¶10.)

         Defendant Desert Partners IV, L.P. (“Desert”) is a limited partnership organized under the laws of the state of Texas. (Gieb Aff. ¶ 3.) None of the partners of Desert are Minnesota residents. (Id. ¶ 4.) Desert is in the business of buying and selling real property mineral interests. (Id. ¶ 7.) Desert has never had an office in Minnesota, employed persons in Minnesota, owned property in Minnesota, or advertised in Minnesota. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.) It has never had any contact with Defendant Ann Kemske or Geri Benson because it acquired its portion of the mineral interests at issue from Family Tree. (Id. ¶ 8.)

         2. Mineral Rights History

         This lawsuit relates to certain mineral interests in, on, under, or relating to real property located in McKenzie County, North Dakota, described as Township 152 North, Range 100 West, Section 33: E1/2SE1/4, Section 34: W1/2SW1/4 (“Property”). (Markert Aff., Ex. 1, N.D. Compl. ¶ 1.) The mineral interest at issue is an undivided one-fifth mineral interest in the Property or 32 net mineral acres (“Subject Mineral Interest”).

         The Subject Mineral Interest was conveyed by Elmer and Frances Benson to their granddaughter, Defendant Ann Kemske, by two quit claim deeds executed in 1984 and 1985 (“1984 and 1985 Quitclaim Deeds”). (Markert Aff., Exs. 3-4.) Each of the 1984 and 1985 Quitclaim Deeds conveyed an undivided one-tenth mineral interest to each of the 5 grantees: Ann Kemske, Plaintiff John T. Benson, Edward A. Benson, Louise F. Benson, and Geri K. Benson Weidt (“Benson grandchildren”), for a total transfer to Kemske of an undivided one-fifth mineral interest.

         Kemske conveyed the Subject Mineral Interest to Family Tree by a Mineral Deed dated April 15, 2010, which was recorded on May 12, 2010, in the McKenzie County Recorder's Office as Document No. 401900 (“Kemske-FT Deed”). (Markert Aff., Ex. 6.) Under the Kemske-FT Deed, Kemske conveyed to Family Tree all of her “right, title and interest in and to all of the oil, gas, and other minerals in and under” the Property. (Id.)

         On May 12, 2010, Family Tree conveyed 24 net mineral acres in the Subject Mineral Interest to Desert, and the deed was recorded on June 14, 2010, in the McKenzie County Recorder's Office as Document No. 403773 (“FT-Desert Deed”). (Markert Aff., Ex. 7.)

         On June 10, 2010, Geri Benson, one of the Benson grandchildren, conveyed by mineral deed all of her right, title, and interest in and to the minerals underlying the Property to Family Tree (“Benson-FT Deed”), and the deed was recorded in McKenzie County on July 9, 2010, as Document No. 404541. (Markert Aff., Ex. 8.)

         On April 9, 2012, a quitclaim deed signed December 13, 1990, was recorded in the McKenzie County Recorder's Office as Document No. 431969 (“1990 Quitclaim Deed”). (Markert Aff., Ex. 9.) The 1990 Quitclaim Deed conveys to Thomas Benson, Plaintiff's father, all of Ann Kemske and ...


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