Court rules fossils belong to landowners


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The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that any fossils found on private land belong to exclusively to the landowners, and that no rights accrue to any owners of the land’s mineral rights.

The Montana Supreme Court this week ruled that fossils are not legally the same as minerals such as gold or copper. Therefore, Montana fossils, including a dramatic specimen of two dinosaurs buried together, belong to people who own the land where they are found, rather than to the owners of the minerals underneath that land.

The 4-3 decision upholds the way U.S. scientists have long approached questions of fossil ownership. It appears to defuse a potentially explosive 2018 ruling by the federal 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that fossils went to the owners of mineral rights.

The outcome is a win for scientists who had warned that tying fossils to mineral rights could make it harder to get permission to excavate and could throw into doubt who owns fossils already on display, says David Polly, an Indiana University paleontologist and past president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Because the earlier 2018 federal court decision was later appealed and the court then referred the case to Montana’s Supreme Court, this decision settles the dispute nationally as well.

That absurd 2018 9th Court of Appeals decision illustrates how insane that specific federal court had become, packed with many radical leftist and partisan Democratic judges. In the past three years however the balance of that court has been significantly changed, so expect fewer such crazy rulings.

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4 comments

  • Andi

    The linked article states in part:

    “The state court’s decision doesn’t apply to other states, but Polly predicted it would carry legal weight if the issue comes up again.”

    Does that settle the dispute nationally? Would this case really carry enough legal weight in other states?

  • pzatchok

    In most cases on property rights the land owner, when they did not own mineral rights, was allowed ownership of anything inside the top 20 feet of the land. States differed in the depth.
    Basically anything he found laying on the top and anything he could possibly find while digging a reasonable footing or basement for a building was his.

    Considering 99.99999% of all fossils are found inside that area their normally was not a question of who owned it. But since people have started paying millions for them of course some lawyer would make the court theft attempt.

  • Phill O

    Canada, very quietly, took those rights from people and declared all fossils belong to the state! A liberal government did this.

    Enjoy your freedoms while they last!

  • TL

    Andi – It won’t settle the issue at the national level, but it likely would carry enough weight that if sued, the landowner would prevail in court eventually. The key word there being eventually. Since the precedent is a Montana ruling it is possible that a suit in another state’s court might be allowed to go forward to trial instead of being dismissed. If the mineral rights holder has deep enough pockets they could push on towards trial with the expectation that the landowner would rather settle than deal with the large legal bill. Sometimes the penalty is the process.

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