What Do You Mean When You Write: “Subject To”?

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The augurs of ancient Rome prognosticated by inspecting the entrails of birds. Similarly, courts divine meaning by interpreting the detritus of our documents. When we don’t leave a clear message behind, those who follow get to tell us what the words we used meant. Sometimes they are right; sometimes not.

Ruminations now rushes in where fools fear to tread. We’re going to extract some lessons from a Supreme Court of Texas decision about mineral rights and royalties. Bless those who labor in that world. If we get something wrong in this world of oil and gas and other things extracted, we’re sure to hear from those whose world we are about to invade.

When a married couple purchased a certain 55-acre property, their seller “reserved” a 1/4 mineral interest (actually an NPRI – a non-participating royalty interest) in the property. That means the original owner would continue to get 1/4 of the benefits from all oil, gas, and minerals extracted from beneath the property.

Property ownership involves what is likened to a “bundle of sticks.” That means there are many rights embodied within the concept of ownership. These rights can be separated and different owners can own different rights in the same property. So, in the “mineral rights” concept, one party can own the property’s surface and another can own the subsurface portion. Similarly, one can own all of a property’s land right down to the earth’s core, excluding the minerals in that “dirt,” and those can be owned by another. Just like a “total” property can have multiple owners, so can those minerals. So, here, the married couple had a 3/4 interest in the property’s minerals and their seller kept a 1/4 interest. So far, so good. [Read more…]

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Where Can I Sue You?

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Is your forum selection provision mandatory or permissive? What’s a forum selection provision? That’s the one your agreement says where you can file suit to enforce your agreement. What is often confused with a forum selection provision? That would be a choice of law provision. That’s where the parties agree as to which state’s law will apply to their agreement. Once you are properly in any state’s courts, those courts can apply whatever law you’ve agreed should be used. It doesn’t have to be the law of that state. [Yes, there are exceptions, but that’s the overriding principle.]

This isn’t going to be a treatise over whether a court will accept jurisdiction over an out-of-state dispute. One reason is that it varies from state to state. Some states don’t want to get involved, but others “almost” solicit the business. For example, New York’s General Obligations Law (GOL) says that, with certain commercially irrelevant exceptions: [Read more…]

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Notwithstanding Anything To The Contrary Contained Herein

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When a carpenter or other craftsperson needs to make “that final adjustment,” she or he reaches into the toolbox and out may come a shim. We’ve all seen shims used, but not everyone knows they have a name. Those wedges, washers, and thin strips of material used to align parts or make them fit are called “shims.” We who draft agreements of every type also use shims. Reluctant as Ruminations is to use the word “all” and mean “all,” today’s use seems accurate. Who among us hasn’t slipped in at least one “notwithstanding anything to the contrary” into every agreement longer than several pages? That’s using a shim because it makes the parts of the agreement “fit” together.

Basically, this shim is used in two circumstances. The first is where, after reading what we’ve written, we realize that our crafted provision isn’t exactly right. We realize that there are one or more circumstances that don’t fit what we’ve written. We realize that what we’ve written needs adjustment. We’ve got to carve out some exceptions. So, instead of rewriting the provisions to make them say what they should say, we append a list of those things we realize don’t fit – but not of those things we didn’t realize don’t fit. [Read more…]

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We Reap What We Sow – Let’s Read What We Write

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We’re sure that, at one time, there were no written leases. It may have been that no one could conceive that putting the arrangement in writing would be desirable. More likely, it was that writing had not yet been invented. Jump ahead – handwritten, typed, and pre-printed leases came into being. And, then, the greatest invention of all – the word-processed form.

We imagine that when you wrote out a lease by hand, you already had negotiated the “deal” and all you were doing was to write it down. Our imagination isn’t good enough to have any sense as to how that felt, but it seems that some advantages of that process have been lost. Today, we’ll only touch on one of those – the scribe (or the one dictating the text) had to know the whole deal and then, to write it out, had to hear or read the deal in its entirety. The typed lease was probably a step away because, and we are guessing, the draftsperson might mark changes on prior, similar leases so as to reflect the new “deal.” Yet, there was no “search” or “search and replace” function – the editor-negotiator had to read the lease or, at least goodly parts of the lease. [Read more…]

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Who Should Write Settlement Agreements? The Courts?

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Today’s Ruminations is triggered by a court decision that may not have reached the “correct” result. If that suspicion is correct, then why do we promulgate its holding? There’s a simple answer. Had more talent been employed in negotiating the agreement dissected by the court, there would have been no court involvement. There would also be a different blog posting today.

The facts appear to be somewhat simple. They might be simpler had the court shown more of the actual agreement in its written decision. Instead, it gave us its characterization. Normally, when courts do so, they do it in a way that tilts the “story” to support its decision. So, we’ll assume that the characterization is the strongest the court could write to support the outcome. Enough with the mystery – here’s the story.

A fitness center leased space. The lease was subsequently amended, at which time the tenant’s owner signed a personal guaranty. The document was denominated as a limited guaranty, but the only “limitation” was its dollar amount cap. Otherwise, it appears to have been what we call a “come heck or high water” obligation. [Some would give it a different, but similar nickname.] The guaranty expressly said that the guarantor’s liability was “co-extensive with that of” the tenant. [Read more…]

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Chickens, Eggs, And Waivers of Claims

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When a tenant’s property is ruined by rain coming through the roof of its leased space, what caused the damage? Was it the water or was it the landlord’s failure to repair the roof? That’s today’s issue to Ruminate about.

Right after a tenant moved into its space, it noticed the presence of water after what was called, “inclement weather.” We might have called it “rain.” So, it notified its landlord. Without delay, the landlord dispatched someone to investigate. His conclusion was the water was coming from an air conditioning unit. The tenant immediately called an independent HVAC repair company. Its conclusion was that the roof was leaking and the air conditioning unit was fine. The landlord did not make any roof repairs.

After that, each time it rained, water came into the space. After one rainstorm, only four months after the tenant moved in, so much water came in that there was damage to equipment, furniture, interior walls, and to over one million dollars (at retail) of inventory. At that time, the tenant again put its landlord on notice of the leaking roof, the damage caused, and the failure of the landlord to make repairs. The landlord had the roof inspected again. This time, its foreman determined that the water intrusion was the result of the building’s improperly constructed exterior and by something wrong with its downspout. Apparently, the landlord still did nothing, not even in response to repeated notices subsequently sent by its tenant every time water came into the space. A lawsuit followed. [Read more…]

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Did They Guaranty The Lease For Its Extended Term?

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We’ve written about guaranties before, most directly in postings that can be seen by clicking: HERE and HERE. Today, we drill down to the enforceability of a lease guaranty after the lease has been modified, but without notice to or knowledge of the guarantor. Today’s Ruminating is informed by a January, 2018 unpublished opinion from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. [Readable by clicking: HERE.]

A church’s lease was guaranteed by its Pastor, his wife, and six other church members. The church defaulted and its landlord sued for the remaining rent under a three-year extension properly signed by the Pastor on behalf of the church, but without the knowledge of the six church members. In fact, they didn’t even have a hint that the lease had been extended despite each being some form of “leader” in the church, though those roles appeared to be substantially ceremonial. Their only financial connection to the church was their obligation to tithe to it. The lower court described them as “commercially” unsophisticated.

The lease extension was by way of amendment. The lease did not have an extension option. The additional three-year term was related to a rent reduction sought by the Pastor and agreed-to by the landlord. The church performed until it didn’t with eight months to go in the lease’s term. At that time, by agreement with its landlord, the church vacated its premises. [Read more…]

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Again: Say What You Mean; Mean What You Say!

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It’s been a while since we used these words: “Say What You Mean; Mean What You Say!” Well, we’re back (and, no, this isn’t going to be a dinosaur’s story.) Today, we report on an unremarkable, unpublished January 22, 2018 Order out of a United States District Court in Illinois. That’s what brings us back to those words.

Before we reveal exactly what we saw in that Order, we’ll start with a simple thought: How many times have you seen the following formulation?

If Grantor begins such repair work or to performs such obligations, but fails to promptly and diligently prosecute the same to completion within thirty (30) days of so beginning, … [Ed. – Note the underlined words]

Well, that drives us crazy. Obviously, the parties meant “within thirty (30) days after.” Yes, “after” is obvious in our example, but every time you encounter this formulation, think about whether, in the case in front of you, you really meant to say that the action could happen within the 30 days BEFORE. [Read more…]

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