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Nelson v. Davis

Supreme Court of Montana

May 8, 2018

MARK T. NELSON and JO MARIE S. NELSON, Plaintiffs and Appellees,
v.
LAYNE STUART DAVIS and MARY JO DAVIS as Trustees of the Layne Stuart Davis and Mary Jo Davis Revocable Trust Dated 8-2-2011; ANTHONY M. PALESE, JR.; and CHRISTINA L. FISCHER, and all other persons unknown, claiming or who might claim any right, title, estate, or interest in, or lien or encumbrance upon, the real property described in the Complaint, or, any part thereof, adverse to Plaintiffs' ownership, or any could upon Plaintiffs' title thereto, whether such claim or possible claim be present or contingent, inchoate or accrued, Defendants and Appellees, and GEORGE SALITURO, JR.; ROSE M. SALITURO; the heirs and devisees, if any, of George Salituro, Defendants and Appellants.

          Submitted on Briefs: February 28, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fifteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Roosevelt, Cause No. DV-15-18 Honorable David Cybulski, Presiding Judge

          For Appellants: Stephen R. Brown, Katelyn J. Hepburn, Garlington, Lohn & Robinson, PLLP, Missoula, Montana

          For Appellees Mark T. and Jo Marie S. Nelson: Gregory G. Schultz, Crowley Fleck, PLLP, Missoula, Montana

          For Appellees Layne Davis, Mary Davis, Anthony Palese Jr., and Christina Fischer: Patrick G.N. Beddow, Michael F. McGuinness, Patten, Peterman, Bekkedahl & Green, PLLC, Billings, Montana

          OPINION

          BETH BAKER JUSTICE.

         ¶1 Mark T. Nelson and Jo Marie S. Nelson purchased property from Mary Jo Davis and Anthony Palese, Jr., in 1997. The deed purported to sell the Nelsons the property in its entirety save a portion of the mineral estate reserved in Davis and Palese. After years of farm use, the Nelsons and Davis and Palese leased the property for oil and gas development. In the ensuing title research, the Nelsons' counsel uncovered possible remote heirs with an interest in the property-George Salituro, Jr., and Rose M. Salituro. The Nelsons brought a quiet title action in the Fifteenth Judicial District Court, Roosevelt County, and the District Court ruled in their favor. The court quieted surface title and a one-half interest in the mineral estate in the Nelsons, with the remaining half interest in Davis and Palese. The Salituros appeal. We affirm.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 The parties dispute the ownership of, and title to, a 160-acre tract of land in Roosevelt County, Montana (the "Property"). For purposes of the issues involved in this case, title to the Property is traced back to Paul Bisceglia. Paul died intestate in 1916, leaving behind his wife Louise and their five children. Under a recorded Decree of Distribution issued by a district court to distribute Paul's estate, Louise received a one-third interest in the Property, and each of their five children received a two-fifteenths interest.

         ¶3 Three of the five children preceded Louise in death and died intestate with no children or spouses. Under the laws of intestate succession, their interests in the Property passed to Louise. Louise died intestate in 1965. There were no probate or intestacy proceedings commenced to distribute Louise's estate. Under the laws of intestate succession, her interests in the Property passed equally to her two surviving children: Rose Bisceglia and Angelo Bisceglia. Thus, after the death of their mother, Rose and Angelo each owned a one-half interest in the Property.

         ¶4 Rose Bisceglia married twice. She had two children from her first marriage: Josephine Palese and a son who preceded her in death. After her first husband's death, Rose married George Salituro. George Salituro and Rose had no children together. When Rose died intestate in 1987, there were no probate or intestacy proceedings commenced to distribute Rose's estate. Under the laws of intestate succession, her one-half interest in the Property passed in equal one-quarter shares to her surviving daughter-Josephine Palese-and her second husband-George Salituro.

         ¶5 The parties to this action do not dispute that an interest in the Property passed to George Salituro upon Rose's death. The record shows, however, that Angelo Bisceglia- Rose's surviving brother and intestate successor to a one-half interest in the Property through his parents, Paul and Louise-and Josephine Palese-Rose's surviving daughter and intestate successor to a one-quarter interest in the Property through Rose-did not realize that George Salituro took an interest in the Property upon Rose's death. After Rose's death, Angelo Bisceglia prepared and recorded an affidavit in the property records of Roosevelt County, Montana, accounting for the descendants of his parents. The affidavit does not mention Rose's second marriage. In 1988, Josephine Palese and her husband, along with Angelo Bisceglia and his wife, issued a deed purporting to convey the entirety of the Property to Josephine's two children-Mary Jo Davis and Anthony Palese, Jr. ("Davis and Palese").

         ¶6 From 1988 to 1997, Davis and Palese leased the Property to Tom Nelson for grazing and grain farming, placed it in the Conservation Reserve Program ("CRP"), and paid all of the property taxes. In 1997, they sold the Property to Mark T. Nelson and Jo Marie S. Nelson (the "Nelsons"), reserving "an undivided one-half of all Grantor's right, title and interest in and to all of the oil, gas and other minerals in and under" the Property. The Nelsons used the Property for grazing and enrolled the Property in CRP. Starting in 2006, the Nelsons began leasing the Property for oil and gas development.

         ¶7 At some point after mineral production started, a mineral developer sought confirmation of the Property's title. Upon investigation, the Nelsons' attorney discovered the overlooked one-quarter interest that vested in Rose's second husband, George Salituro. George Salituro died intestate in 1991 and no probate or intestacy proceedings were commenced to distribute his estate. Under the laws of intestate succession, his one-quarter interest in the Property passed to his two children from a prior marriage: George Salituro, Jr., and Rose Salituro (the "Salituros"). ...


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