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Black Hills Institute of Geological Research v. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Black Hills Institute of Geological Research appealed a judgment regarding whether a fossil is personal property or real property prior to being excavated.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A fossil is considered land prior to being excavated.

    Facts.

    Black Hills Institute of Geological Research (Black Hills) sought to excavate the bones of a dinosaur, Sue, that was located on property entrusted to Maurice Williams (Williams) by the Federal Government. Black Hills purchased the right to excavate sue from Williams and federal officers seized sue from Black Hills. Black Hills brought suit to quiet title to Sue and the court granted judgment in favor of the United States.

    Issue.

    Whether a fossil is considered land prior to being excavated?

    Held.

    Yes. Because Sue was part of the land prior to being excavated, Sue was part of the land and therefore considered real property. Black Hills was therefore required to seek permission from the Federal Government to excavate and remove Sue. The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

    Discussion.

    A fossil is considered land because it is part of the earth. South Dakota case law provides that real property is “solid material of the earth.”


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