Case of Water Rights Quagmire in Oklahoma Going Back to Trial

Article excerpt

In January 2006, physician Richard Stansberry appeared before the Oklahoma County Planning Commission. He was there to explain what was happening with a plan to build a single-family, residential subdivision on a parcel of land he had owned for decades.

"Dr. Richard Stansberry, area landowner, stated that the water rights had been a problem for quite a while," read the minutes from the meeting. "Mr. Stansberry stated that the water right issue was still a problem to be settled by the courts. ... The court case was between Deer Creek Water, Medicine Lodge, and himself."

The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals made a decision recently that will keep the issue tangled up in the courts a while longer. The court reversed the District Court of Oklahoma County's decision to grant Stansberry summary judgment in the case, sending the matter back to trial.

Water rights may be handled in much the same fashion as mineral rights, the court agreed - water rights are severable from ownership of the property that originally bestowed the water right. But the case involving Stansberry and Medicine Lodge raised more questions than had been answered by the trial court, the appeals court found.

Stansberry and his business, EAR Inc., owned land in Edmond that had passed through several hands since 1980, when then-owner Walter Sitlington entered into an agreement with Deer Creek Water Corp. Deer Creek is a private business that provides water supply service, established in 1971. When Sitlington later sold his 160 acres, the warranty deed provided the sale and all future sales of the land are subject to the Water Rights Agreement with Deer Creek.

Stansberry bought nearly 55 acres of the land in 1992. In 1994, he conveyed all of his interest in the property to his family business, EAR Inc., by Quit Claim Deed. The deed contained no reference to, nor reservation of, mineral or water rights.

When EAR sold the land in 2004 to developer Medicine Lodge, the deed excepted from the conveyance "covenants, conditions, easements, restrictions and mineral reservations or conveyances of record. …