Enerlex, Inc. v. Hegar, No. 03-18-00238-CV, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 6771 (Tex. App.—Austin Aug. 7, 2019, pet. filed)
In Enerlex, the Austin Court of Appeals held that a mineral buyer could not demand payment from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts for prior unclaimed royalty payments relating to the purchased royalty interest, because those royalty payments were turned over to the Comptroller under the prior owner/grantor’s name.
Enerlex acquired the mineral interests under two mineral deeds which conveyed the minerals underlying the property and “all royalties, accruals and other benefits, if any, from all Oil and Gas heretofore or hereafter run.” Enerlex subsequently sent an Unclaimed Property General Claim form to the Comptroller for $4,652.91 in unclaimed royalty payments which had been sent to the State under the prior reported owner’s name. The Comptroller denied the claim, explaining the mineral deed transferred the mineral interests, but did not transfer the right to obtain prior proceeds from those interests from the Comptroller. Enerlex filed suit, and the trial court affirmed the Comptroller’s results.
The Austin Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s holding, explaining that section 74.501(e) of the Texas Property Code “unequivocally” states that the Comptroller “may not pay” an unclaimed-property claim to “an assignee of the reported owner.” As a result, the parties’ intentions in their transaction was not controlling. However, the court indicated that its holding does not interfere with contractual rights a grantee may have against its grantor, nor does the holding suggest that a grantor may not sell and assign his rights to unclaimed property. Rather, this case merely holds that an assignee must look to its contract with the property owner rather than the Comptroller through the unclaimed-property process. While the Comptroller did not dispute that for more than a decade it had paid similar claims, the court declined to hold that an agency is estopped from changing course when it determines that its earlier interpretation of a statute was erroneous.