Third-year law student Emma Geesaman won first place in the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Real Property, Trust, and Estate Law for her paper, “The Ownership of Fossils Found on Private Property: Are They Part of the Mineral Estate or the Surface Estate?” The paper, which centers around the ownership rights of dinosaur fossils found in Montana, tackles a unique problem.
“When the surface estate and mineral estate of a property are owned by different entities or people, it isn’t always clear which party owns fossils found on the land. The question comes down to what constitutes a mineral,” Geesaman said. “The Montana Court was applying a test out of the Supreme Court of Texas. The lower courts in Montana (the District and Appeals Courts) came to different conclusions, with the Appeals Court reversing the District Court and finding that the fossils belong to the mineral estate under the Texas test. The Montana Supreme Court then created their own test and ruled that the fossils belonged to the surface estate.”
“This is an issue that has divided state and federal courts, and Emma’s paper does a great job of analyzing the problem and providing a thoughtful resolution,” remarked Jonathan Entin, professor of law at Case Western.
Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, Emma Geesaman studied political science at Boston University and graduated with a minor in environmental policy and analysis. She was drawn to Case Western Reserve University by the Burke Center for Environmental Law.
“I am very interested in environmental law,” Geesaman said. “After graduation, I hope to pass the California Bar exam and work in that field. In particular, I found this to be a very unique and interesting problem, and one you may not always consider to be a legal issue.”
Originally written for “Law Review Seminar,” the paper was submitted to the ABA writing competition, which offers a full scholarship for first prize winners to the University of Miami School of Law's Heckerling Graduate Program in Estate Planning or the Robert Traurig-Greenberg Traurig Graduate Program in Real Property Development.
The first place winner also receives a $2,500 award.
This paper will be published in The Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Journal, the section's law review journal, which is mailed to 18,000 members.